Colorado Avalanche’s Lack of Roster Depth Leads to Deep 2-0 Series Hole

The Colorado Avalanche’s Game 2 loss to the Dallas Stars was a prime example of how a few undisciplined mistakes can totally swing momentum in the opposite direction. The Avs were cruising up 2-0 halfway through the contest when they took two costly penalties and gave up two goals in 43 seconds. Eight minutes later, they were down 4-2 and all the air had been sucked out of the building. They are now in a world of hurt down 2-0 in the series with Game 3 on tap for tonight.

Frustratingly, the Avs played a nearly perfect first period in Game 2, outshooting the Stars 18-6. Nathan MacKinnon scored on the power play six minutes into the game on a blast from the slot over Antonin Khubodin’s left clavicle. The rest of the team played inspired hockey in all three zones and had made changes to neutralize to heavy Stars forecheck, like defensemen not holding onto the puck very long in the defensive zone. When the Stars did have chances, Pavel Francouz was sharp in the net and rarely gave rebound for second and third chances.

The second period started right where the first had ended. The Avs were playing disciplined playoff hockey and went up 2-0 on a power-play goal by Mikko Rantanen after some creative work behind the goal line by MacKinnon. But soon after, all the momentum suddenly turned 180 degrees. In the span of 43 seconds, Sam Girard drew a slashing penalty during a skirmish after the whistle and Ian Cole got called for an unnecessary interference minor when he needlessly checked Joe Pavelski from behind at the top of Francouz’s crease.

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The Stars scored on both the resulting five-on-three and the five-on-four situations, tying the game. Then within the next eight minutes, the Stars shutout the Avs on their own two-man and man advantages before scoring two unanswered goals to end the period up 4-2. An empty-netter late in the third finally put the Avs out of their misery.

Lineup Changes

  • Philipp Grubauer is out indefinitely and will likely miss the series. Pavel Francouz started in net in Game 2 and is the presumptive starter going forward.
  • Erik Johnson missed Game 2 with a lower-body injury sustained in Game 1. Kevin Connauton replaced him.
  • Matt Calvert missed his second straight game and was replaced by Vladislav Namestnikov again.

Game 2 Takeaway

Avalanche Second Line is a Huge Liability

For the second consecutive contest, only the Avalanche’s best registered any points. Digging more into the numbers, the second line was extremely weak. One of the stats that shows how well a team keeps possession in high danger scoring zones is High Danger Corsi For percentage or HDCF%. Values above 50% indicate that with a certain player on the ice at even strength, his team possessed the puck more than the opponent.

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Per Natural Stat Trick, of the six Avs who registered under 50% in Game 2, four play on the second line: Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Sami Girard. These players combined for 25% of the team’s total ice time, yet only contributed 16% of the CF. More troubling is that 57% of the Stars’ HDCF occurred with these players on the ice. It doesn’t matter if these players aren’t known for their defensive play; they are simply not retaining possession in the offensive third and the Stars know that they can exploit this.

An example of this is how the Stars scored their fourth goal. A mishandled puck by Donskoi in the slot during a power play late in the third period resulted in Stars defenseman Esa Lindell in a foot race against Donskoi up the boards in transition towards the Avs’ net. Lindell possibly had a step on his Finnish compatriot, but incredibly Donskoi lunged out of desperation in a premature attempt to knock the puck from Lindell’s possession.

Failing to do so, Donskoi took himself out of the play, creating a 2-on-1 with 60 feet to go. The lone Avs player was Sami Girard who made a feeble attempt to disrupt the odd-man rush and slid himself out of the way, effectively giving the Stars a 2-on-0 during which Lindell easily scored. In 20 seconds, the Avs second power-play unit that consists of most of its second scoring line turned a golden scoring chance to tie the game into a two-goal deficit.

Joonas Donskoi Colorado Avalanche
Joonas Donskoi, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To combat the suddenly shallow depth, head coach Jared Bednar must re-arrange the lines so that no single line is such an enormous liability anymore. Also, Girard would benefit from playing with a strong defensive defender like Ryan Graves or maybe Nikita Zadorov. I know Zadorov has committed his share of mental lapses this series, but Girard is lost without the physical presence of injured Johnson.

Game 3 Expectations

Game 3 is tonight at 8:30 pm MST and is now practically an elimination game for the Avalanche. Only around five percent of teams down three games to none have come back to win the series. A Stanley Cup favorite as recently as a week ago that currently contains three of the top-six playoff scoring leaders, the Avs have dug themselves into a huge hole. I expect to see major shake-ups across all lines during the game, not just at the start. They were forced to do this at times this season too to stop losing streaks.

Pairing Gabe Landeskog with Nazem Kadri on the second line worked well in the Arizona Coyotes series so I think that coupling will make its return tonight. Mikko Rantanen and Nate MacKinnon are playing so well together that it’s hard to advocate for a full-time break up, but MacKinnon and Donskoi showed chemistry earlier in the season when Rantanen was injured.

Related: Avs’ 1st Round Draft Picks 2014-18: Where Are They Now?

MacKinnon centering Burakovsky and Donskoi may awaken the struggling wingers. Allowing Kadri to center Landeskog and Rantanen would provide much needed scoring diversity among the Avs’ top-six forwards. Defensively, the loss of Johnson is having a demonstrable effect. Maybe playing Girard with strong defensive bluelines like Graves or Zadorov improve his efficacy on the ice, but it may be more likely that a strong offense will compensate for his lack of defensive skills.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bottom line is that the Avalanche need to treat every game for the rest of the series like it’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. That’s the level of urgency that’s required to right the ship that the club is in danger of sinking. If they can play every shift like they did the first half of Game 2, then they’ll have a good chance of advancing to the Western Conference Final.

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