Look out, the Colorado Avalanche are the hottest team in the NHL, winning five in a row and seven of their last 10 games. They appear to be returning to their Presidents’ Trophy roots from last season. Last night, the Ottawa Senators were the latest victims of Colorado’s hot streak, losing 7-5 in an entertaining back-and-forth affair. Let’s dig into my three takeaways from Monday’s highest-scoring fixture on the schedule.
Makar Returning to All-NHL Form on Blue Line
Is Cale Makar back? Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back. After scoring a solitary point through the first four games of the 2021-22 season, the defensive superstar has reverted to exceeding the astronomical expectations placed upon his young shoulders. In the nine subsequent games, he’s tallied 14 points (seven goals and seven assists) and has consequently rocketed back into the Norris Trophy conversation in short order. He carved the Senators open repeatedly, leveraging his sharp edges to dance along the blue line and find open seams through which to set teammates up in dangerous areas or create his own high-danger looks.
Despite playing between three to five fewer games than most of his statistical contemporaries on defense, Makar ranks eighth in all-situations point-scoring and first in points-per-game among defenseman who have played a minimum of 10 games so far this season. The entire organization was in an injury-induced funk for the first few weeks of the season, but like Makar, they look to have gotten their mojo back – a frightening proposition for the rest of the NHL. The game against the Senators marks the first of four matchups this week, which could see the Avalanche rapidly climb up the divisional standings as they make up their games in hand.
Avalanche Dominate at Five-On-Five
Yes, they played Ottawa, the owners of the fewest points in the NHL standings at the moment. Yes, those same Senators were coming off a three-game hiatus necessitated by COVID protocols. Yes, D.J. Smith’s men were not expected to seriously challenge for a playoff spot this season. Yet, the Avalanche thoroughly dismantled the Senators, especially at five-on-five. They controlled 74% of unblocked shot attempts (FF%), 69.7% of scoring chances (SCF%), and tallied 12 high-danger chances to Ottawa’s one at five-on-five. The Senators’ power play (2/3 on the night) and Kuemper’s poor performance made the game appear much closer than what the underlying numbers suggest about the evening’s events.
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Although Nathan MacKinnon, J.T. Compher, and Bowen Byram remain sidelined for the time being, Devon Toews is back, and the Avalanche are starting to fire on all cylinders. For all of the early turbulence experienced by the organization through the first month of the season, they sit 10th in points percentage and hold several games in hand on their division rivals. Be warned, for Colorado is beginning to fulfill their preseason promise as Stanley Cup contenders.
Kadri Continues to Step up After MacKinnon Injury
In leading the Avalanche in scoring with 23 points in 15 games, Nazem Kadri is continuing the time-honored tradition of producing in a contract year. Snarky cynicism aside, Kadri’s offensive outburst has been indispensable in mitigating the negative impact of MacKinnon’s absence, and he leads the team in total shots (44), even-strength points (15), and power-play points (eight). After a difficult 2020-21 campaign for the ex-Toronto Maple Leafs forward in which he scored the fewest points since the 2011-12 season, his redemptive arc this year is a sight to behold.
Kadri was buzzing around the net all night, crashing into the crease for Valeri Nichushkin’s opening goal. He tallied four points on the night (one goal and three assists), threading a seeing-eye pass to Andre Burakovsky in the process and later setting up a tricky one-two play between Burakovsky and Mikko Rantanen. He capped off his banner outing with an empty-net goal, giving the Avalanche their fifth straight win. If the team hopes to regain their status as the NHL’s apex predator, continuing to receive steady offensive support from scorers like Kadri goes a long way in overwhelming opponents who lack the same depth resources as Colorado can trot out on a nightly basis.
Next Game Preview: Nov. 24 vs. Anaheim Ducks (10-6-3)
In my recent Avalanche trade targets article, I highlighted two Ducks who could be available at the trade deadline. With how the team has been flying recently, those names might not be realistic options for much longer. Buoyed by a Vezina Trophy caliber season from John Gibson, a late-career resurgence from captain Ryan Getzlaf, and a breakout campaign from Troy Terry, the Ducks, now claim the final automatic playoff spot afforded to the Pacific Division.
Despite their impressive start to the season, they may soon fall back to Earth amongst the mortals. On the back of a torrid power play (25.9% – fifth in the NHL) and a stingy penalty kill (85.7% – ninth), Anaheim is buffering against their less than stellar results at five-on-five where they hover below a 50% share in most chance-quality and possession metrics. They rank 24th in 5v5 expected goals against per-60-minutes (xGA/60) and 16th in scoring chances surrendered per-60 (SCA/60). Gibson’s impervious presence in net (.925 save percentage) brings down their actual goals conceded to 16th, but it’s clear that their bread and butter has been made on special teams.
Both the Ducks (20th in xGA/60 on the penalty kill) and the Avalanche (23rd) are struggling to prevent opposing teams from creating threatening chances on the power play, but both teams rank within the top 12 of chance quality with the man advantage. Colorado is a much better 5v5 team at the moment, with their 53% xG share the sixth-highest mark this season, but if the Ducks draw a barrage of penalties, they can take down the Avalanche with their crafty power play schemes. What’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.