For a two month stretch from Dec. 8, 2018, to Feb. 12, 2019, the Colorado Avalanche endured a long and ugly spell of mostly losing hockey. Racking up 22 losses against just five wins (including OT losses), it looked for a time like the Avs’ chances of making the playoffs this season were all but lost.
In the 22 losses during that period, the Avs scored just 48 times, or at a rate of just 2.18 goals per game, which was almost exactly a full goal less per game than their overall regular season average.
But then something happened – the Avs started winning again. In fact, without a late-season push that saw them win eight of their last 11 games, the Avalanche would certainly have missed the playoffs this season.
In those eight wins, Colorado scored at a rate above 3.5 goals per game, and much of this success took place with two of their three top stars out of the lineup with injuries (both Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen missed several games down the stretch).
But even with their top line decimated for a time, the Avalanche still managed not only to score goals, but also to win games thanks to their hard work, strong secondary scoring, and solid goaltending.
Players like Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie were particularly effective down the stretch. In the final eight games of the season, Kerfoot managed a point per game pace with four goals and four assists (it didn’t hurt that he was mostly playing with Nathan MacKinnon during that time).
Barrie kept up the same level of production over the final 11 games of the season, scoring seven goals and adding four assists in that time.
Playoff Success vs Calgary
Since the beginning of the playoffs, the Avs have been at their best when the secondary scoring has shown up. The usual suspects (Landeskog, Rantanen, and MacKinnon) have consistently done their part, but Colorado’s greatest success has come when its lesser heralded players have also contributed.
For instance, even though MacKinnon scored a big overtime goal to give the Avalanche its first win in the Calgary series to pull even with the Flames at one game apiece, the other two scorers in that game were Matt Nieto (only four goals all season in 64 games) and J.T. Compher (just 16 goals all season through 66 games).
In fact, both Nieto and Compher have four goals already in these playoffs through their first 11 games. Compher’s two massive goals and one assist in Monday night’s Game 6 victory at the Pepsi Center in Denver are the only reason the Avs are even still alive right now, and this is exactly the kind of contribution they’ll need on Wednesday night if they hope to get past the San Jose Sharks in Game 7.
Not to imply that it always has to be Nieto or Compher coming through. A handful of Colorado players are scoring in these playoffs at a pace higher than their rate in the regular season. Among them is Colin Wilson, who has four playoff goals versus just 12 in the entire regular season.
Similarly, Tyson Barrie has also contributed largely at times. Though he only has one goal thus far, it was certainly a big one, coming as part of his huge Game 2 performance earlier in this series. On that night, Barrie notched a goal and two assists to help the Avs pull even with the Sharks. His overall playoff performance so far this year includes a total of eight points in 11 games.
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Similarly, rookie D-man Cale Makar has also had a major impact in these playoffs. In addition to scoring the game-winning goal in his first playoff game ever against the Calgary Flames, he also assisted on Landeskog’s Game 6 overtime goal to stave off elimination against the Sharks. So far Makar has recorded one goal and five assists through his first nine career playoff games. The kid hasn’t even suited up for a regular season NHL game yet!
Avalanche Playing Team Game
The Avalanche are currently doing what all successful (and eventual championship) teams must do: getting contributions from a broad selection of players. Through the first 11 games, they’ve had goals from 11 (and points from 17) different skaters.
They’re also blocking shots, getting excellent goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, engaging in strong physical play, and lately, they seem to be winning the majority of puck battles along the boards as well.
I’m not saying that the Avalanche are destined to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this season, but they sure are giving it strong effort night after night and promising their fans a bright future. For that matter, if they bring everything they’ve got for Game 7 against the Sharks, I see no reason whatsoever why they can’t keep this thing going for at least one more round.
But, all hands will have to be on board if Colorado is to take the decisive Game 7 in San Jose. After all, they’re playing on the road and are sure to encounter difficult matchups at the top of the lineup (i.e., Brent Burns and Co. will be all over the MacKinnon line). All the more reason why the Avs’ secondary scoring will just have to keep on keeping on!
Whether it’s Compher, Nieto, Wilson, Barrie, Makar, or someone else this time, if the Avalanche get secondary scoring on Wednesday night and play a tough and desperate game, I think their chances of advancing to the Conference Final are pretty solid.