Could we be witnessing the birth of the league’s next juggernaut in the Colorado Avalanche? A case in point is this series; it took less than a week for Colorado to advance to the Second Round of the playoffs. The team’s cut-throat dismantling of the 2019 Stanley Cup champions was a sight to behold. So much so that I wouldn’t have judged anyone calling this a 3-0 Avalanche sweep, for the series felt over by Friday. Put simply, the only thing more battered than St Louis in this series, was Braden Schenn’s face after Gabriel Landeskog had finished with it in Game 1.
But before we put a bow on this West Division bout, let’s briefly explore the main areas which led to Colorado’s expedited progression into the next round.
Colorado’s Exceptional First Line
There aren’t too many better places to start than with the heartbeat of Jared Bednar’s offence.
Leading from the front, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen devoured the Blues. Collectively, the first line totted nine goals and 24 points over the four games. MacKinnon scored six goals, two of which were game-winners; he also assisted on the series-winning goal. Naturally, Landeskog and Rantanen were busy supplying Mack’s demand. They notched six assists each and three of those were on lead-taking tallies.
Together at even strength, Colorado’s top line outscored its opponents 6-0 in 58 minutes of ice time. Conversely, the Blues top line managed around 49 minutes in the series and was outscored 5-1.
A Masterclass in Screens and Deflections
Although, what is perhaps more impressive than the raw numbers, was how the Avalanche’s first line out-strategized the Blues.
The game plan that Colorado deployed throughout was centred around bullying the Blues defence and setting up shop in the goalmouth. As a result, they focussed on engineering space at the blue line for their puck-moving defenceman by driving defenders back before feeding the puck to the point. By which time they had installed multiple layers of traffic to keep Jordan Binnington blind in his crease. They then let rip through the seams.
A goal that typified this approach was their second in Game 4. Mikko Rantanen drove hard into the left circle before stopping sharply to cycle the puck back to the point. Gathering at the quarterback position, Samuel Girard collected the pass and wired the puck through a lane, only for Landeskog to reach out and tip it past Binnington.
During the series, Blues defencemen were powerless around Binnington’s crease which facilitated Colorado’s effective screen game. Most of the time, there were two forwards in the trenches, skating through the goaltender’s line of vision as a wrister was laced through a sea of bodies.
Of the Avalanche’s 14 (non-empty netter) goals scored, seven of them were goals from either a screen or a redirect. Landeskog thrived in particular; he scored two of them and screened on four more. Clearly, number 92 was leading by example. Not afraid to get into the dirty areas to make plays, the captain used his phenomenal hand-eye coordination to steer his side comfortably into the Second Round.
Grubauer Outduels Binnington (And It Wasn’t Close)
Of course, the goaltenders were (as always) a factor. In the series primer, I mentioned that Grubauer held one of the keys to Colorado’s playoff success. So far, this has proven to be accurate. Although it’s also true that Colorado’s starting netminder hasn’t exactly stolen the show. Then again, he hasn’t needed to.
According to Money Puck, Grubauer is playing at an average level. He has conceded fractionally (0.1 goals) more than expected, but ultimately he hasn’t moved the needle either way in the series. Meanwhile, Jordan Binnington had a pretty forgettable four games. His -3.2 goals saved above-expected ranks 19th out of 20 goaltenders to play during the 2021 postseason. The difference, therefore, was down to poor performance in this goalie duel, which was disappointing, especially considering how good Binnington looked in the first two periods of Game 1.
Grubauer merely had to do the basics well to keep things comfortable. Though, in fairness, he did have one memorable multi-save sequence in Game 3. With the scores tied at 0-0, Kyrou fed a backhand pass through the slot to an unmarked Ivan Barbashev in tight by the goal post. Totally unmarked, Barbashev had three whacks at elevating the puck into the net but Grubauer kept his pad extended, pulling off a flurry of goal-robbing pad stops.
The Colorado Avalanche: A Juggernaut With Bigger Fish to Fry
Overall, Colorado was brutally efficient in seeing off St Louis. They outscored, out-chanced, out-special teamed, and out-goaltended them. It was total, utter, domination. Now they reap the rewards of a few precious days off as they prepare for their Second Round bout against either the Vegas Golden Knights or Minnesota Wild.
After watching the First Round go exactly as planned, it’s hard not to look even further ahead. With the lashings of talent on this team, it is clear that the Colorado Avalanche are a juggernaut, built to go deep into July. Surely, anything less than the Conference Finals will be seen as a failure based on the expectation for this group? Mind you, felling a former Stanley Cup winner isn’t a bad way to announce your own candidacy.
*Stats aside from goalies sourced via Natural Stat Trick.