Colorado Avalanche vs Arizona Coyotes First Round Preview

colorado avalanche vs arizona coyotes

The “real” playoffs are here! For the Arizona Coyotes it’s about time. For the Colorado Avalanche, it’s let’s prove we are an elite team. The two teams are a good matchup with SPEED being the key factor, among many others. Both teams have a mixture of youth and veterans. Who will prevail in this Colorado Avalanche vs Arizona Coyotes series?

Colorado Avalanche vs Arizona Coyotes

Team Matchups

For Colorado, they seem to be unstoppable and that is an issue the Coyotes will need to face. How do you stop a Nathan MacKinnon (35-G, 58-A)? They possessed the fourth best offence and fifth best defence in the regular 2019-20 season. Stopping them will be a challenge but don’t forget that the Coyotes were ranked third in defence this past season. It seems like a battle written by a Hollywood script writer.

Colorado Avalanche Past Season

After a successful regular season accumulating 92 points, the Avalanche proved they are for real in the qualifying round. They dispatched the St. Louis Blues 2-1, and then decimated the Dallas Stars 4-0. They finished the series by losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in overtime, 4-3 which meant the Golden Knights were the top seed in the West.

Rookie Cale Makar was magnificent this past season registering an amazing 12 goals and 38 assists in just 57 games. While this team was hurt severely by injuries, they didn’t allow that to dictate their path to success. Their key player’s injuries lists like a MASH unit instead of a hockey team. Nazem Kadri (18 games), Gabriel Landeskog (15 games), Cale Makar (12 games), and Mikko Rantanen (27 games).

Good teams find a way to win even with excessive injuries keeping their major players off the ice. The Avalanche are for real, and watching them play is a treat.

Arizona Coyotes Past Season

The Coyotes actually led the Pacific Division in January, only to falter and drop in the standings finishing with 74 points. So much so that they didn’t appear to be able to qualify for the playoffs. Then, the pandemic, which changed the world happened. With the NHL’s decision to include 24 teams in a tournament qualifying series to determine which teams moved on, it was classic and exciting for all fans.

For a team who struggled even after acquiring a star offensive player like Taylor Hall, they will take any entry into the postseason they can get. Many thought that the Yotes were not going to get past the Nashville Predators in the qualifying series. This writer predicted the Coyotes in five games, when in actuality it only took four games to complete.

This series will determine what the Arizona Coyotes are made of. Will they fold, or will they step up as they did against a tough Predators team?

Goaltending – Colorado Avalanche vs Arizona Coyotes

Arizona Coyotes Staying With Darcy Kuemper

The Coyotes need to stay with the goalie that took them to the dance and that would be none other than Darcy Kuemper. His teammates need to determine how to limit the Avs from attacking their goalie with 163 shots in four games in the Nashville series. Luckily for the Yotes, their goalie came up huge. Unfortunately, a team can’t be carried on the back of their netminder. They need to give him more support or else they could wear him out.

Even though Kuemper’s numbers weren’t as impressive as during the regular season, with a .928 save percentage and a 2.22 goals-against-average, he still kept them from losing. If he continues to stand on his head to make saves, this could be a short series for the Arizona club. Forwards need to back-check better and defencemen need to prevent dangerous shots from getting near their goalie. Sounds simple enough, so we’ll see if that strategy is implemented.

Their other option for this best-of-seven-game series is Antti Raanta. He may be back for this series, but with his on-again, off-again injury history who knows. If there is no Raanta, Adin Hill may get a look, but only if Kuemper is exhausted.

Colorado Avalanche Goalie Tandem Has Worked

The goalie tandem of Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer was fantastic this season. They pretty much have split the netminding duties much to what the Coyotes wanted to do but were unable to do with Raanta’s injuries.

Francouz had a regular-season record of 21-7-4 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against-average. Grubauer wasn’t a slouch either with an 18-12-4 record gathering a .916 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against-average. In the round-robin games the two… guess what split the games. While Francouz had a shutout, Grubauer was good too with a 1-0-1 record and a .914 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against-average. It may be a toss-up as to who gets the start in net, but both are definitely exceptional in net.

Key Players – Colorado Avalanche

The Avs will of course hope to stay healthy as they experienced excessive injuries during the regular season. With a star player capable of breaking open a game like MacKinnon, they will have the advantage there. Add in Landeskog, Rantanen, and even Kadri… and it’s tough to outscore the Colorado club.

Again the key ingredient for the Avs is their speed. Keeping up with them will be difficult if not impossible. MacKinnon alone has one of, if not the best first steps in the NHL. Once he gets going you will not catch up to him and the only way to stop him is to take a penalty. The power play of the Avs was at 19.1 percent during the regular season, so the Coyotes need to play a disciplined game and not take stupid penalties. MacKinnon alone had 12 power play goals and assisted on 19 others.

Even if the Coyotes can limit MacKinnon, that will allow the collection of other offensive threats to be open to score. Colorado has an awesome offence and they intend to use it.

Key Players – Arizona Coyotes

Forward Nick Schmaltz who missed the Nashville series may be back in the lineup which would allow the Coyotes’ leading scorer to add to their effectiveness. Besides Schmaltz, the Coyotes saw some offensive contributions from Phil Kessel (one goal, three assists), Clayton Keller (two goals, two assists), Taylor Hall (one goal, three assists), and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (one goal, three assists). The hidden surprise players included Michael Grabner who collected two key goals, one a shorthanded beauty, and Brad Richardson who scored the winning goal in overtime of Game Four.

Another key player who knows the Avalanche well is forward Carl Soderberg. He played for the Avs for four years before coming to Arizona. He knows what it took to transform the Colorado club from an average team to a winner. His insight could be a valuable tool for the Coyotes to tap into as they strategize their game plan for this series.

Of course, with the exceptional play of Kuemper, he will be in the spotlight to see if he can stop the explosive Avs offence. He’s been playing lights out lately and needs to continue that if the Coyotes intend to move on in the playoffs.

Prediction

Ah, yes… who will win this series? It’s going to be quite intriguing to see if the tough defence of the Desert Dogs can stymie the offensive firepower of the Avalanche. If they fail, the losses will mount like an avalanche.

The goaltending, as usual, may decide this series. If Raanta is unavailable, the Avs get the advantage in net. Kuemper is not superhuman (but at times it seems like it) and will need some relief even if he’s been off for four months.

Evaluating all the variables and intangibles is a tough call. It just seems that the best team in this series has to be the Colorado Avalanche.

Avalanche in six games.

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