The Colorado Avalanche are still a favored contender despite mediocre start.

Colorado Avalanche left wing Andre Burakovsky (95). Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Colorado Avalanche left wing Andre Burakovsky (95). Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche are unanimously one of the top four Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL.

Despite a slow start that has included nearly every variety of inconsistency, that outlook has not, and should not change for the Colorado Avalanche. The Western Division season is about nine percent complete. So, for hockey fans, there is a fine line between panic and patience this season.

After a two-game split against the St. Louis Blues at home, Colorado took off to California for a four-game road trip. All three of the NHL’s California teams missed last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and had season performances deserving of top-10 Draft picks. The San Jose Sharks were attacked by the injury bug, but the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings were both just plain bad in 2019-2020.

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Before the season kicked off, the Western Division was predicted to have Colorado, St. Louis, and the Vegas Golden Knights finish 1-2-3 followed by a multiple team donnybrook for the fourth Playoff spot. That being said, Colorado surprisingly split two games in L.A. Each game would have been decided by one goal save for an empty-net goal.

On Friday night, the Avs played the third game of their four-game road trip and the first of a two-game set against the Ducks. Colorado would come out on top, winning 3-2 in overtime. The game needed great saves from both Philip Grubauer and John Gibson to ensure there was not a winner in regulation. That makes three out of three closer than expected California games for the Avalanche so far.

In the Western Division, Colorado will always have the best player in the game. Nathan MacKinnon is one of the best overall in the NHL. In division, it is not even an argument. When matched with Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen it is obvious why the line has been dubbed “the three-headed monster” in Colorado. The Avalanche will put more overall skill on the ice in almost every game they play this season.

Why the lack of dominance and inconsistency to kick off the season, then? Each of the Avs’ opponents this year plays a grinding, hard-working style of play. Colorado wants to play a high tempo transition game to showcase their dynamic talents. For both L.A. and Anaheim, their stars from championships of the past decade have aged and are past the best parts of their careers. So playing dump-and-chase with a nasty forecheck takes up most of their respective strategy.

That type of game has worked against this Colorado team. All of the Hockey world saw it last year when Colorado and Los Angeles played an outdoor game in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the United States Air Force Academy and the Kings pulled out a 3-1 victory. If you cannot out skill Colorado, drag them down to play in the mud. Doing so greatly improves your odds of surviving the “three-headed monster.”

Nazem Kadri (91), Nathan MacKinnon (29)
Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Behind a slow start, the Colorado Avalanche are still showing signs of how dominant they could be

Through five games Colorado sits fourth in the Western Division with a record of 3-2-0. Despite the shortened season, there is little reason for panic. First of all, the Avs have 51 more games to play. As we discussed in the past, goaltending and special teams are going to be a big deal for Colorado this season.

On Friday night, Grubauer outdueled one of the NHL’s best. John Gibson, even after giving up three goals to Colorado, has a Save Percentage of .929% through four starts. Gibson is Anaheim’s best player but he was not enough. Grubauer stopped 36 of 38 shots and was Colorado’s best penalty killer.

The Avalanche killed all five penalties they were challenged with on Friday. Five minor penalties is not what fans want to see, but Colorado now sits at a respectable penalty kill percentage of 84.2% after finishing last season with an 81.4% clip. In the NHL last season, a PK% over 84.0% was in the top four of the league. Colorado hopes this trend is sustainable.

Something that is not sustainable is the current Powerplay success rate. Four teams in the NHL have a powerplay rate of 40.0% or better, the Avs sit at that 40.0% mark right now. Last year’s PP champs were the Edmonton Oilers with a PP% of 29.5%. For Colorado, this absurd (and unsustainable) start is good news. With names like MacKinnon and Rantanen, last season’s PP% of 19.1% was a disappointment.

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The standings might say one thing, but the big concerns facing the Colorado Avalanche and their 2020-2021 season have already begun to be answered. After all, even with a shortened season, there is still plenty of hockey to be played. Colorado will finish its road trip tonight with a second game against Anaheim.