It took until the last day of the season for it to be official, but the Calgary Flames will open the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs with a first round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.
As Game 1 approaches on Thursday night at the Saddledome, here is everything you need to know about the Avalanche this season: their strengths and weaknesses, special teams, roster composition, goaltending, how they match up against the Flames, and how this series should turn out if everything goes according to plan…
The Avalanche are one of the more top heavy teams in the NHL, with three players contributing the majority of their offence. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog combined for 106 goals and 261 points. The dynamic trio accounted for 41% of all Avalanche goals this season, and shutting them down will be priority number one for the Flames. Outside of their top line, the Avalanche have just three other players who hit the 30 point mark; Carl Soderberg distantly trailing Landeskog with 23 goals and 49 points.
In terms of possession metrics (score and venue adjusted 5v5) for all forwards who played at least 500 minutes this season, the Avalanche don’t look like a great fancy stats team. Only six forwards finished above the 50% CF mark, with Rantanen pacing the team at 53.7%; eight forwards were above 50% SCF, Matt Calvert leading at 55.5%; and six forwards over 50% HDCF, Matt Nieto leading the team with 56.7%. For what it’s worth, the entire top line was below water when it came to HDCF%.
In the faceoff dot, only three Avalache forwards finished above 50%. Alexander Kerfoot led the team at 55.8%, followed by Landeskog at 51.4%. MacKinnon, who took the most draws out of any Avalanche this season, is just 43.1%; this is an area that the Flames can potentially exploit to steal possession time away from the top line.
The Avs might not have a Norris Trophy calibre defender on their blueline, but Tyson Barrie is no slouch. He lead the Avalanche defence with 14 goals and 59 points this season, finishing fourth in team scoring and seventh among defencemen in the NHL. Barrie averages just over 21 minutes in ice time per game, second on the team behind Erik Johnson. Other than Barrie though, the Avalanche blueline leaves a lot to be desired in terms of putting points on the board.
Again with 5v5 SVA data for defencemen with at least 500 minutes, Barrie, Johnson, and Ian Cole are the only three to finish above 50% CF, Barrie on top with 52.5%. These three and Patrick Nemeth are all above 50% HDCF, and those four along with Nikita Zadorov and Samuel Girard are all above 50% SCF.
Though Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer both started the year on a less than ideal note, both turned their seasons around, especially Grubauer. At 5v5, he finished the year with a .928 SV%, and .840 HDSV%. Varlamov was not too bad either, finishing with a .919 SV% and .820 HDSV%.
Grubauer will likely be tending the crease for the Avalache to start the series, (it’d be his second year in a row stealing the starter’s net to open the playoffs, as he did the same during his tenure in Washington). His strong play will be one of the biggest keys if the Avalanche are to win the series against the Flames.
The Avalanche finished the year with the seventh most effective power play in the NHL, operating at a 22.0% clip. This was a huge part of their ability to score goals this season, especially because Colorado led the NHL in power play opportunities with 286 (the Flames were second with 275).
As predicted, MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog stir the potent Colorado power play drink, the trio combining for 36 goals and 97 power play points this season. Barrie leads the defence with 2 goals and 25 power play points. The first power play unit accounts for around 70% of the Avalanche’s power play goals, while the second unit makes up the remaining 30%. Capitalizing in the first half of their power play chances will be important for the Avalanche in this series.
On the other end, the Avalanche penalty kill finished the year in 25th place, operating at 78.7%. Colorado also lead the league in total times shorthanded at 272, and gave up the fourth most power play goals this season (58). They were tied for ninth in the NHL with nine shorthanded goals scored. Johnson is their most relied upon penalty killing defencemen, playing just under 247 shorthanded minutes this season.
Head to Head
The Flames and Avalanche played three games against each other this season, with the Flames securing the win in all three. The Avalanche picked up just one loser point in those three matches. All stats below are 5v5 SVA totals.
- Avalanche finished at 39.2% CF, 40.4% SCF, 39.3% HDCF.
- No powerplay goals scored.
- No shorthanded goals scored.
- Avalanche finished at 38.3% CF, 40.3% SCF, 34.2% HDCF.
- The Flames scored one powerplay goal.
- The Avalanche scored one shorthanded goal.
- Avalanche finished at 57.1% CF, 55.6% SCF, 46.1% HDCF.
- The Flames scored one powerplay goal.
- No shorthanded goals scored.
49.9% – Avalanche CF% on the season, 14th overall in the NHL
7.6% – Avalanche SH% on the season, 22nd overall in the NHL
.922 – Avalanche team SV% on the season, 9th overall in the NHL
.999 – Avalanche PDO on the season
1 – MacKinnon’s league rank among centers for total on ice CF, individual shots, and individual CF (all situations)
5 – Rantanen’s league rank among right wingers for total points, total assists, and first assists
65.9 – Mikael Backlund‘s combined CF% against the Avalanche this season.
The biggest worm in this series is goaltending. The Avalanche appear to have it, and despite a much stronger second half from Mike Smith, the Flames simply don’t have the same level of goaltending. The season series between the two teams featured 24 goals (average of eight per game), so goaltending could be the thing that puts one team over the top. In this area, the edge definitely goes to the Avalanche.
However, since the last matchup in January, the Flames’ bottom six has established itself as one of the most potent in the NHL. Where the Flames and Avalanche matchups to date have basically been a battle between two explosive top lines, the Flames now have a reliable bottom six that can retain possession, generate chances, and put the puck in the net. In terms of offence, the edge goes to the Flames.
On defence, there’s good reason to believe the Flames might just have one of the best defensive corps heading into the playoffs right now. It’s a bullish statement, but thenumbers back it up. Calgary’s blueliners are responsible in their own end and generate offence more often than not.
As discussed in our analysis of required save percentage, the Flames aren’t a team that need good goaltending to win games. If Smith and/or David Rittich can just hold the fort, the Flames should be able to score enough goals to win the series. If the Flames get decent goaltending, it might not be that close at all.
Nothing is for sure in the playoffs, but the Flames look to be the better team on offence, defence, on the penalty kill, and in possession. They should be the favourites heading into the series, and should advance to the second round.