The Colorado Avalanche proved on Thursday why they are a team to be feared in the NHL.
On Thursday night the Colorado Avalanche blanked the San Jose Sharks by a score of 3-0. After the Avs’ .500 start and a worrisome California road trip they are now one point out of first place in the Western Division with a record of 5-3-0. In a condensed season where coaching adjustments will make a huge difference, Colorado Coach Jared Bednar may have cracked the Avs’ California question.
Throughout recent history, the Avalanche have not had great success against the three California teams the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. In the past decade, all three teams have been exceptional, tallying three total Stanley Cups. Now all three are rebuilding despite still having some key veterans from those recent successes.
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Because of Colorado’s over the top skill each California team needs to play a dump and chase, heavy forechecking, focus on defense type of game. Both Anaheim and Los Angeles split their series against Colorado. San Jose failed to do the same against Colorado. Their scheme, however, was very obviously different between Tuesday’s 7-3 loss and Thursday night’s 3-0 loss.
On Thursday San Jose was able to keep the game tied at zero until halfway through the third period and even though the game was not close by score or underlying numbers, Colorado’s three-headed monster of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen was effectively shut down. MacKinnon was the only member of the top line to register a point, which was an assist that came on the powerplay.
The Colorado Avalanche finally appear to have hit full stride after a two-game sweep of the Sharks.
Yet for Colorado, this is very good news. The Avalanche has one of the best top lines in all of hockey, but it is who comes next that should worry the rest of the NHL. After desperately needing depth to help produce in the first six games of the season, the Avalanche second line is the reason for Thursday’s Avs victory.
Generally, this line consists of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Bradon Saad. Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin also make appearances depending on the situation. After scoring just one goal and two assists in the previous seven games, Kadri scored two goals and one assist on Friday. Kadri also registered ten shots on goal as he had been knocking on the door all night until finally breaking the egg on the scoreboard in the third period.
Kadri was not alone in his breaking out. Brandon Saad added two assists, after scoring two goals on Tuesday. Saad’s four total points in the two San Jose games came after scoring just one goal and zero assists in the previous six games. As for Burakovsky, who also scored a goal on Thursday, he is obviously back to full strength after missing the first three games of Colorado’s most recent road trip.
Kadri was drafted seventh overall by Toronto in 2009 and became expendable after the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares and essentially made Kadri a third-line center. In his years in Toronto, Kadri was a serviceable top-line center who scored 30+ goals twice. He was acquired in a 2019 offseason trade that sent Tyson Barrie to Toronto.
Burakovsky was also a First-Round Draft choice, but could not quite break into the Washington Capitals top-six forward group. Understandable when it is dominated by Alex Ovechkin. In 2019-2020, his first season in Colorado, Burakovsky had a career-high 45 points in only 58 games, not to mention 17 points in Colorado’s 15 Playoff games. Colorado acquired the rights to sign Burakovsky from Washington for a Second and Third-Round Draft pick in the 2019 offseason.
Brandon Saad was acquired by Colorado this offseason in a trade that sent Nikita Zadorov to the Chicago Blackhawks. Saad averages about 20 goals a season and was a part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams in Chicago. All three members of the Avalanche second-line woke up against San Jose and, coincidentally, all three are now on pace to score 20 goals apiece.
As unrealistic as a second line that each score 20 goals in a shortened year might be, this performance should be a very loud warning to other teams in the NHL. Go ahead and shut down the MacKinnon line. How then do you plan on shutting down the Kadri crew? There are some teams in the league that would be improved if the Kadri line were their own top scoring line. For Colorado, it is a huge second fiddle.
As for the fact that the game was a shutout in which the Sharks only managed 21 shots on goal, it was Philipp Grubauer‘s second of the young season and the goalie now owns a very impressive save percentage of .928% in his seven starts. The defense in front of the net has been exceptional as well. Cale Makar is tied for second in points by a defenseman with nine assists and rookie Bowen Byram is filling all of his opportunities with extremely confident play.
If the Colorado Avalanche have found their stride it means bad news for the rest of the Western Division. Colorado will begin a four-game series against the surprising Minnesota Wild and rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov. Winning three of the next four games would put a four-point gap between the two teams who are currently both tied with ten points in the standings.