The Colorado Avalanche needed a pair of wins to stay in the hunt for the Honda West Division title, and they secured them with a couple of tight wins against an opponent they’ve dominated this season. Colorado won a pair of games against the Los Angeles Kings this weekend, both by identical 3-2 scores.
The Avalanche are now 5-1 against the Kings on the season. Two of Colorado’s final three games of the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign come against Los Angeles, as well. Here’s three takeaways from Colorado’s pair of wins against the Kings.
Defense Leads the Way Against L.A.
The top scoring line has paved a smooth road for the Avalanche all season, but the defense flexed its offensive muscles against the Kings. Defensemen accounted for four goals and four assists in the two games against Los Angeles, with Cale Makar notching a pair of goals and a pair of helpers.
Devon Toews scored a pair of goals — both in Saturday’s victor — while Toews and Jacob MacDonald assisted on Tyson Jost’s fifth goal of the season on Friday. The increased output from the defense is more than welcome, especially with the playoffs around the corner. Assists have been coming from the blueliners, but goals had been scarce.
Makar — who notably has lost a lot of time due to injury — only has eight goals on the season after scoring 12 in his Calder Trophy-winning rookie campaign. Three of those goals have come in his last six games. Toews’ pair of goals on Saturday gave him nine on the season, which is a career-high. However, entering Saturday’s game, Toews only had one goal since March.
MacDonald has also been a pleasant surprise, and he now has six assists in his last 10 games. That’s not bad for a guy that has eclipsed 15 minutes of ice time twice in that stretch.
Grubauer Still Trying to Get Early-Season Form Back
The Avalanche are still winning games, but they aren’t getting the same lights-out play from their goaltender as they were earlier this season. Philipp Grubauer was the team’s rock early in the season, and he may have gotten a bit worn out because he was playing nearly every game. He played himself into contention for the Vezina Trophy, having led the NHL in goals-against average (GAA), save percentage (SV%), wins and shutouts at various points in the season. He still ranks in the top 10 in all four of those categories.
But his recent play has been pretty sporadic. Through March, Grubauer sported a tidy .928 SV% and a 1.78 GAA. Since then, Grubauer has made eight starts, and his numbers have dropped.
Grubauer has an .888 SV% and a 2.96 GAA in those eight games. They’ve also featured a little bit of everything. In those eight games, Grubauer has everything from getting pulled after allowing seven goals on 18 shots to a shutout. It’s important to note that his April wasn’t anything normal. He started four games, then missed 18 days inside the league’s COVID protocol, and has started four since. Oddly enough, his two best starts in that span were right before he entered protocol and right after he came out.
The first was a 35-save performance in a win against Arizona on April 12. When he returned, he made 21 saves to shut out the San Jose Sharks on April 30. Grubauer needed just 15 saves on the way to Friday’s win, but the Avalanche need more consistency at the back if they’re going to make it anywhere in the playoffs.
Division Crown on the Line Next
The two wins against the Kings were a must. The Avalanche have won five of their last six, but that lone blemish could cost them the Honda West Division title. The four playoff teams from the division have been determined, but Monday’s game between the Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights could determine the division champ. Colorado has to win its remaining three games to claim the crown, where the Golden Knights simply need to win on Monday.
The Avs can place as low as third. The Minnesota Wild are currently in third but can overtake Colorado if the Wild win their final two games, and the Avalanche lose two of their last three contests. It’s a taller order for the Wild since their remaining games are against the St. Louis Blues — the fourth playoff team from the West.
The Avalanche face the Golden Knights on Monday and then wrap up the season with two against the hapless Kings. Los Angeles sits in sixth in the West, and Colorado is 5-1 against them this season. However, the Golden Knights come first, and the series between the two has been pretty tight. Vegas holds the edge in the season series, going 4-3 against the Avalanche, with one of those wins coming in overtime. They hold a 17-15 edge in goals over Colorado, too.
Vegas has the advantage of playing at home on Monday, and the Golden Knights have played in front of crowds of 7,567 in their last two home games — the largest in-person crowds to watch an NHL game this season. (from ‘Golden Knights reward crowd with overtime victory over Blues,’ Las Vegas Review Journal, 05/07/2021) With home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs on the line, expect another large crowd in Vegas on Monday.
The Avalanche have a chance to win their first division title since 2013-14, but there is still plenty of work to do over their last three games to reach it. They’ve already clinched a spot in the playoffs. Now, they just have to treat these last three games like must-win games, too.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.