The expectations for the Colorado Avalanche are as high in the 2021-2022 season as they have been in recent memory, and a Stanley Cup championship will be the only outcome that satisfies those expectations.
After another second-round exit in 2021, the third in a row for the Avalanche, Colorado is viewed as one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to claim the Stanley Cup in 2022. So far this season, the Avs seem more than capable of being that team.
On the year, Colorado owns a 27-8-3 record, the top spot in the Central Division, and the best offense in the NHL (by half a goal per game over every team in the league besides the Florida Panthers). The team is 10-0-1 in the month of January, and the players that you would expect to be lethal offensively have left nothing more to be desired.
But what makes this version of the Avs different than the ones that could not advance beyond the second stage of the postseason? There’s one player that could push Colorado to new heights.
Darcy Kuemper could be the key to playoff success for the Avalanche.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is the player that will be the X-factor for the Avs as the season progresses and the postseason begins. The 31-year-old netminder is in his first season with the Avalanche, replacing former starter Philipp Grubauer, and so far, he has posted an 18-5-1 record, a 2.65 goals against average, and a .912 save percentage.
His numbers are comparable to the ones that he recorded a year ago as a member of the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s his 2018-2020 form that he needs to recapture for Colorado. In those two seasons, he owned a 2.33 goals against/.925 save percentage (2018-2019 season) and a 2.22 goals against/.928 save percentage (2019-2020 season).
In the 2020 postseason, Kuemper led the Yotes to a qualifying round victory over the Nashville Predators before losing to an Avalanche group that skated in circles around his Arizona teammates. He was the star of the early portion of that playoff season, and his .913 save percentage, which is respectable, does not do justice to just how well he played.
Recently, Kuemper has been looking more like the goaltender that the Avalanche had hoped they acquired in the offseason. He has lost only one game in regulation since November 11, and he has held opponents to two goals or fewer 11 times in that span. In his last three contests, Kuemper has surrendered only two goals in total.
Barring an offensive meltdown, which seems unlikely given the number of players that are capable of scoring at high rates, the only question for the Avalanche will be defense. As a team, Colorado gives up 30.9 shots per game, which ranks near the middle of the league, but the penalty kill is 27th, fending off opposing power plays 75.2% of the time. Elite goaltending could fix that, and that’s exactly what the Avs need from Kuemper.
I like the Avalanche a lot in the Western Conference, and I like Darcy Kuemper to be an impact player for them in their quest for the Stanley Cup. If he struggles, Colorado could be defeated, but if he plays to his potential, I’m not sure that anyone will present much of a challenge to the Avs.