NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. Avalanche-Sharks stream coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
When the Avalanche is completely healthy with their full complement of players there are few NHL rosters that can measure up on paper.
Their top line is an All-Star line with Nathan MacKinnon (a consistent MVP contender), Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.
They have spent the past two years bolstering the depth around them with players like Andre Burakovsky, Brandon Saad, Nazem Kadri, and Joonas Donskoi.
They also have three different defenseman who you could put together a compelling Norris Trophy case for this season (Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Devon Toews) and they are all young.
With all of that in place they enter Wednesday’s game against the Sharks with one of the NHL’s best records and having a decent chance at winning the West Division. They trail the Golden Knights (playing the Coyotes) by two points in the standings.
[AVALANCHE-SHARKS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
Just about the only aspect of the team you might question at this point is the goaltending position currently occupied by Philipp Grubauer and Devan Dubnyk.
When healthy and on the ice, Grubauer has been one of the league’s most productive goalies this season and been a sensational last line of defense behind the Avalanche’s elite blue line. Those two factors together have made Colorado one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. It has quite honestly become their biggest strength.
But the goaltending spot is going to be the biggest X-Factor going into the playoffs.
Now, that is not exactly an earth shattering revelation here. Goaltending is an X-Factor for every team in the playoffs and every series that takes place. No matter how good either team is it only takes one goalie on a hot streak or one goalie on a cold streak to completely turn a series on its head.
The concerns around Grubauer and the Avalanche situation are simple.
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The first is that Grubauer is just now coming back from a two-and-a-half week absence due to COVID-19. Players that have come back from that have had their struggles at times, and Grubauer was already seeing his play drop a bit in the few starts before that.
Him being healthy and on top of his game is significant because the Avalanche do not really have anybody they can rely on behind him.
Pavel Francouz, last year’s backup, is out for the season. The Avalanche tried to address the backup goalie spot before the trade deadline by acquiring Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has won three of his first starts with the Avalanche, but the .880 save percentage (as well as his sub-.885 save percentage since the start of the 2019-20 season) is alarming.
The position is not a huge concern overall, especially with a healthy Grubauer, but it is the one position that is a bit of a wild card.
Since April 1, Avalanche goaltenders have combined for an .884 save percentage, a mark that is 24th in the league during that stretch. It has not really had a negative impact on their results in the standings, but it might be the difference in a best-of-seven series against a really good team like Minnesota or Vegas.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.