RECORDS: Avalanche 35-24-6 Hawks 28-30-8
PUCK DROP: 7:30
DISPENSARIES AND BREWERIES: Mile High Hockey
As they will spend the rest of the season pretty much, the Hawks will gaze across to the other bench and see a team they used to barely give a thought now playing for the things they want, i.e. a playoff spot and a future. While the Avs always gave the Hawks fits even when the Hawks were dominant, at least we could laugh those losses off as something to be washed away in the irrelevance of regular seasons. Not so much anymore. as the Avs are right in the thick of a wild card chase, with an MVP candidate in their midst, a couple other kids worth watching, while the Hawks can only try to mind-meld with the sand in the hour glass, forcing it into the bottom chamber faster.
How the Avs have got here is basically saddling up on Nathan MacKinnon and running him until he stops. Mac K has the best point-per-game mark in the league, and if he hadn’t missed seven games he’d be running away with the Hart Trophy discussion. Writers are going to bend themselves in all sorts of directions and binds to keep it from him should the Avs miss out, and Taylor Hall winning it sure would have Brooks-ian levels of comedy to it. But no one has played better than MacKinnon, and he’s caused a Gabriel Three-Yaks-And-A-Dog revival as well as kick-started the career of Mikko Ratanen.
Beyond that though, if you’re getting a hint or whiff of 2014, when the Avs were good because they shot the lights out and got Varlamov’s Vezina year and actually weren’t all that good and were quickly exposed in the playoffs, you’re not entirely wrong. Because it’s not exactly easy to point to what this team does well other than “have Nathan MacKinnon and his career-doubling SH%.” They’re not a good possession team, or a terribly good defensive one, They give up a ton of attempts but are better at limiting the quality of those, as their expected goals-against per game is 11th in the league.
The one thing they do well is kill penalties, third in the league, and you’d think with all that speed that would go hand in hand. So if you don’t give up many power play goals and can just win things at even-strength, you’ll be ok. The Avs have done that, mostly thanks to their top line.
There’s a touch more to them than that. Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot on the second line portend to a pretty nice future if they continue to evolve. Nikita Zadarov on the blue line has been effective in his first season as a top-pairing guy. Tyson Barrie has the points but not the possession numbers he’s put up in the past.
And they stop the puck. At even-strength, this team has the fifth-best save percentage as both Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier have been excellent this season. Their overall numbers of .913 and .914 aren’t exactly inspiring, but they’ve combined for a ,925 adjusted at evens for the Avs. You’ll win a lot of games that way.
For the Hawks… I mean I don’t know that it matters anymore but it will be interesting to watch Keith and Murphy have the last change and get thrown out there against MacKinnon every shift so we can see how Murphy deals with that. He’s certainly looked ok in the role in the two games in Southern California. Other than that, I don’t really know what to tell you. More of Eddie O telling us how much they like Matthew Highmore and Pat Foley slowly turning into Caray and Piersall circa ’79? I’m not sure any of you hate this team more than Foley does right now.
Could be an ugly week for the Hawks. Then again they pretty much all have been since January. They face two teams scrapping for wild card spots in Colorado and Carolina, and then a home-and-home with somehow the second best team in the league in the Bruins. So that’s a good time for everyone.
Game #67 Preview