Narrowly making the playoffs after finishing fifth in the Central Division last season, the Colorado Avalanche have their work cut out for them. Although the Pacific Division produced the two highest-ranked teams in the Western Conference, there were five teams from the Central Division in the playoffs. How will the Avalanche battle their division rivals in the 2019-20 season?
Blues, Predators and Stars
Clearly, the St. Louis Blues are the favorite after winning their first ever Stanley Cup and not making many moves in the offseason. The recent addition of defenseman Justin Faulk beefed up their already stacked defense. Goaltender Jordan Binnington is set to continue his outstanding play and Ryan O’Reilly is looking to keep lighting the lamp. Coach Craig Berube knows it’s going to be a struggle to match their level of success from the second half of last season. His biggest concern is “understanding how hard we have to play to be successful,” he said in a pregame conference on Sep. 27, 2019.
The Blues won all four contests against the Avalanche last season. However, they were close-fought games with the Blues earning wins in two overtime and one shootout. With the increase in scoring depth for Colorado, the Blues/Avalanche matchups this season are most definitely going to be exciting and not one-sided again.
Meanwhile, over in Nashville, the Predators shipped P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils and signed Matt Duchene to a seven-year contract in the offseason. After winning the division last season and getting knocked out in the first round, they’re gearing up to prove their worth. “It’s a message from the front office that just willing to do anything that’s going to make our team better,” goaltender Pekka Rinne told the Canadian Press on Sep. 13, 2019. “I always personally feel like it’s on players when things don’t go as planned or as you wanted them to go. I think it’s the nature of this game. There’s always going to be changes, and you just got to get used to it.”
The Avalanche and Predators split their series against each other last season. Both teams gained momentum by increasing their scoring power in the offseason and both teams possess solid defense. These teams are quite evenly matched, but it comes down to the Avalanche finding a way to score on Rinne and keeping Duchene from lighting up Grubauer. Call for an even split again between these teams.
It has been debated which organization made the biggest moves in the Central Division: The Avalanche or the Dallas Stars? Both teams struggled with offensive depth, but the Stars needed to improve their power play as well. The additions of veteran center Joe Pavelski and right wing Corey Perry increase leadership for the squad and offense to a lacking power play unit.
Although three of the four games played between the teams favored the Avalanche last season, this season it comes down to chemistry for both rosters. The Stars added two older veterans to an above-average-age team in contrast to the Avalanche adding one and a few younger, not quite primed players to their roster. Dallas may be the dominant team in this season’s matchups, but it’ll certainly be a hard-fought battle between the two.
Wild, Jets and Blackhawks
The Avalanche opened last season with a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, but ended up splitting wins/losses with them in the end. The Wild landed last in the division and were plagued with injuries and poor performances, keeping them from the playoffs for the first time in six consecutive seasons. They shook things up a bit in the offseason with a new general manager, Bill Guerin, and adding winger Mats Zuccarello to the roster. Those moves may have been the spark the team needed to get back in the running, but they still have some pieces missing. If they stay healthy and Devan Dubnyk plays stellar in net, they should at least earn more points than last season. The Avalanche will dominate with better scoring power and a tougher defense this season.
The thorn in the Avalanche’s side is the Winnipeg Jets. The teams had one close encounter with a home overtime win in Denver, but the other games were opposite sides of the spectrum. High-scoring competitions proved evenly matched teams with offensive firepower. The Avalanche scored 14 goals in their three wins and the Jets tallied 12 goals in their two. Home ice seems to be the advantage for both teams. Winnipeg didn’t make any blockbuster moves in the offseason, but managed to secure Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor for an extended time. Even with Dustin Byfuglien suspendedand away from the team, Avalanche fans should gear up for another split with these squads as they battle each other evenly at home and away.
Three of the five games played against division rival Chicago Blackhawks last season were losses for the Avalanche. Two were in overtime but they couldn’t manage to beat the opposition’s lacking defense. The Blackhawks stacked up their defense with young, gritty players and solidified their netminding by signing Vezina trophy finalist, Robin Lehner. Look for this rivalry to heat up as the young talent meet to split the series this season in some very physical play.
Now that Mikko Rantanen is signed and back with the club, the Avalanche can focus on getting the 2019-20 season underway. He didn’t waste any time getting back on the ice and was welcomed with stick taps and cheers.
Even though the Avalanche lost more games than they won against their division rivals last season, this new, altered group of players exude excitement and energy, which will push them to battle hard for a higher spot in the Central Division this season. No doubt they’ll earn it and advance beyond.