Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.
38-30-14, 90 pts. (5th in the Central Division, 8th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in Round 2
2018-19 season review
It all started off so swimmingly for the Avs to begin the season.
They trotted out to a 15-6-5 record through the first two months, including a stretch of eight wins in nine games in November. They had nestled themselves into a good spot come Dec. 1 and past that magical date of U.S. Thanksgiving where teams above the playoff line generally stay there and teams below it do not.
The Avs put themselves into second place, just behind the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference. Their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog was the best line in hockey, scoring at will. And despite the lack of scoring depth, it didn’t matter one iota. MacKinnon and Co. were carrying the team to great heights.
By New Year’s Day, however, they had suddenly dropped to sixth place in the conference. By Feb. 1, they were down to eighth, and with a month and a week to go in the season they were on the outside looking in.
December and January were particularly awful stretches for the Avs, who won just seven of 24 games across the two-month span.
You can only run as a one-trick pony for so long and when the top line’s offense dried up a bit, so did the team’s rich vein of form.
Enter Philipp Grubauer.
Grubauer was the prize for the Avs buying out Brooks Orpik’s contract from the Washington Capitals during the 2018 offseason. He didn’t set the world on first earlier in the year, but when Colorado needed him most, he pulled through.
The German posted a 9-2-2 record in 14 appearances in the run-in to the playoffs. His .956 save percentage and three shutouts secured a playoff spot on April 4, the final in the Western Conference.
And his play was rewarded when head coach Jared Bednar gave him the crease for their opening-round matchup against the top-ranked Calgary Flames. And there he flourished, too, helping backstop the Avs to a five-game series win over the first-place Flames.
He’d lead the Avs to the brink of the Western Conference Final, only to lose out to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7.
He showed well enough. And Grubauer will be the team’s top man in net this season as he becomes a bona fide starter for the first time.
General manager Joe Sakic has gone out and looked for secondary scoring to complement that dangerous top line. The addition of Nazem Kadri via trade, Joonas Donskoi in free agency, and Andre Burakovsky, whose rights were acquired in a trade and later signed, will go a long way to helping that cause.
The Central Division is in the midst of an arms race and the Avs have certainly kept up appearances. They shouldn’t be struggling to get in into the postseason in early April this time around because of that.