Yes, it’s true that the Avalanche aren’t at full strength. They haven’t been very often this season. But the larger direction of the Avalanche’s offseason was beefing up their depth, and that was on display during their 4-1 win against the Kings.
Avalanche depth makes difference vs. Kings
No doubt, Nathan MacKinnon was flying out there at times. Yet, until MacKinnon iced things with an empty-net goal, he didn’t really contribute much to the scoring for Colorado.
Instead, a significant chunk of the Avalanche’s offense vs. the Kings came from Nazem Kadri, Brandon Saad, and Andre Burakovsky.
Kadri really put his dynamism on display with this sensational 1-0 goal:
Kadri also showed some great playmaking ability in setting up Andre Burakovsky:
Cal Petersen and the Kings deserve credit for hanging in their the best they could against the Avalanche. Colorado simply wouldn’t be denied, though.
Grubauer steady, Avalanche steady in front of him
After injuries stacked up during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, people got the impression that goaltending was a weakness for the Avalanche. The reality is that they actually enjoyed impressive netminding from Philipp Grubauer (and especially Pavel Francouz) last season.
But, being that Francouz hasn’t been able to play in 2020-21, it’s fair to at least wonder about the position. Especially since Grubauer, Francouz, and others haven’t really built up long resumes of NHL success.
Well, so far this season, Grubauer’s been the sort of steady goalie the Avalanche hoped for when they acquired him from the Capitals.
The 29-year-old carried a .920 save percentage into Sunday’s Avalanche – Kings game, and he was sharp in this one.
He also had to be sharp more often than he’s usually needed to be. Through a fast-paced first 40 minutes, the Avalanche fired 34 shots on goal to the Kings’ 17. That’s a big advantage for the Avs, but it’s still enough of a workload for a goalie to crumble if they aren’t playing well. Instead, Grubauer was game.
But the Avs have generally shielded Grubauer lately. On Friday, the Avalanche only asked Grubauer to make 18 saves to shut out the Kings. Over his previous three appearances, he only faced 46 shots on goal.
Grubauer ended up making 27 out of 28 saves on Sunday.
Managing workload by limiting shots faced
That strong Avalanche work in front of Grubauer extends far. He hasn’t faced 30 shots on goal or more since Jan. 26, and only three times in 21 games.
Now, sure, it’s possible you might give up some quality to make up for a lack of quantity … but it still seems like the Avs are insulating Grubauer.
It brings up an interesting question. While the Avs are leaning on Grubauer for more starts than they were likely planning, might they be able to avoid too much wear-and-tear merely by protecting him so well?
That’s for goalies, maybe just Grubauer, to answer. Even if you’re not facing a bunch of shots each night, you’re still tracking the puck all game long. There’s likely some mental fatigue either way.
Regardless, it’s interesting to watch, and Grubauer is delivering so far for Colorado.
Avs stay in West seeding hunt; Kings best of worst
After beating the Kings (now 11-10-6 for 28 points in 27 games played), the Avalanche improved to 16-8-2 (34 points in 26 GP). Colorado passed the St. Louis Blues for third in the West Division, staying right behind the red-hot Minnesota Wild.
The Kings? They’re at least maintaining self-respect. How much value is there in merely being the least-worst of teams in the West who probably won’t make the playoffs, though?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.