The Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks are going to play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – that’s more or less unavoidable at this point. The two and three seeds in every division play in the first round, and the Avalanche are a full seven points behind St. Louis for first in the Central, while Chicago is a full 12 up on Minnesota in the three spot. So yeah, happening.
Avs fans have been pleasantly surprised by their team during Patrick Roy’s first year at the helm, storming out of the gates and taking a major step as a group that wasn’t expected to win this often. That combined with their success against the Blackhawks this season – they’re 4-1 in five games – and you have a recipe for some people to be hopeful about their odds in a seven game series.
But they’re going to get smoked. I’m sorry, Avs fans. No prejudice here – I just can’t see it ending any other way.
When I learned today that Matt Duchene is out with a knee injury that will keep him off the ice for a month, a timeline that takes him past the first round of the playoffs, I tweeted something semi-trolly (but also something I legitimately meant):
Avs had little chance against the Blackhawks in round one to begin with – going at them w/o Duchene? ….Buh-bye.
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) March 31, 2014
And I heard about it.
@jtbourne yeah…we are 3-1 against Chicago this year so that makes no sense.
— Jason Raby (@frodaddyjr24) March 31, 2014
So, fine. The Avs are 4-1 versus the Blackhawks. Got it. They’ve also gotten shelled.
So, here’s the scores of their games so far:
|11/19/2013||CHI 1 – COL 5||CHI 37 – COL 23|
|12/29/2013||COL 2 – CHI 7||COL 18 – CHI 37|
|1/14/2013||COL 3 – CHI 2 (OT)||COL 26 – CHI 48|
|3/4/2014||COL 4 – CHI 2||COL 21 – CHI 38|
|3/13/2014||CHI 2 – COL 3||CHI 39 – COL 29|
4-1, but they’ve been outshot by an average of just under 40 (39.8) to 23.4 per game.
They’ve relied heavily on fantastic goaltending despite getting more or less rolled over. In the Avs’ four wins the first stars were, in order: Semyon Varlamov, Semyon Varlamov, Semyon Varlamov, and Matt Duchene. In the other game, the loss, JS Giguere got the start.
Varlamov is a good starting goaltender, but his four starts against the Blackhawks have seen him give up under two goals a game while facing over 40 a night, which is impossible for any goalie to sustain. Any team can eek out wins when their goalie stops 97% of the shots they face. But no team can expect that to happen with consistency.
The other issue is that the Avalanche’s puck possession numbers – numbers that predicted the Kings’ Cup run, the fall of this year’s Leafs and much more – are slagging as the season draws on.
The Avs have plummeted to 26th in the NHL in score-close shot-attempt differential (Corsi) – when games are tight, as they will be in playoffs, they’re getting pumped. The only teams worse than them are the Flames, Oilers, Sabres and Leafs – not exactly Cup contenders. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are second-best in the league in that situation. Worse still, is that in losing Duchene, they lose one of their few players who is successful at driving play. If the Avs aren’t moving the puck out of their zone, their defense simply isn’t good enough to hang in a playoff series with the big boys who’ve won two of the last four Cups. Oh, and they’re the third most-fortunate team in the league by way of “PDO,” a metric that accounts for shooting luck.
The Blackhawks may be trotting out Patrick Kane after his injury, they might be headlined by a captain whose shoulder is essentially pulled pork, but these two teams are not close enough for it to matter. I’m not sure I’d like Colorado’s odds even if Duchene made it back and Toews and Kane couldn’t play. If just the opposite happens, I can’t see how they push the series beyond five games.