In a unique NHL season, where every game is played against a division opponent, there are more questions than answers about the relative strength of each Stanley Cup competitor.
The NHL West Division’s rivals Vegas, Colorado and Minnesota were the first three teams to each secure a place in the playoffs last week. The Central Division’s Carolina Hurricanes were only the fourth team to prevail on Monday.
All of this leads to the question: Are the Golden Knights, Avalanche, and Wilderness as dominant as their records suggest? Or is the rest of the division relatively weak and the top three got fat from eating junk food?
We won’t likely have an answer until the third round of the playoffs as the NHL continues to plan to do the first two rounds in all divisions.
Avs coach Jared Bednar suggested on Tuesday that some of the West’s top teams split up because the basement Anaheim Ducks (14-28-7) joined forces with California’s other two teams – the Los Angeles Kings (18 -) – have carried out a complete renovation. 22-6) and San Jose Sharks (19-24-5).
“You are at a different point in the development of your group. You have a lot of young people playing and if you drop out of a playoff race they look at young people like we did a few years ago, ”Bednar said after an optional practice session at the T-Mobile Arena, where the Avs and Knights will complete their eight-game set on May 10th.
“Some of these people are ready, some are not. They try to give boys experience. And when players get injured this time of year and you’re not in a playoff race – especially if the next season is fast approaching – people go for surgery. You make decisions based on the future rather than the present. “
All of this bodes well for the Avs (31-11-4) in the short term, playing eight of their remaining 10 games against San Jose and LA and the other two against Vegas. The division’s leading Golden Knights (34-11-2) are now playing eight of their last nine games against a playoff contender. Minnesota (31-13-3) also has a tough schedule, playing seven out of nine against a top five club.
In the long run, will the Avs lack of play against playoff competitors result in a team that isn’t battle-hardened enough for the final two rounds of the playoffs? The Avs Center Nazem Kadri doesn’t seem to believe that.
“To be honest, there are no easy games,” said Kadri. “I just feel like our division is pretty strong in general and even the teams end up competing against each other every night. You may not get the results you want, but you work hard. I think as the season goes on, the better teams start to split up and that’s exactly what we’re seeing. “
The Avalanche faced their recent COVID shutdown ahead of Vegas, trying to regain their lead and home advantage during the playoffs. But on Wednesday the Avs will come back from the COVID protocol without three key players. Goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer is with the team in Las Vegas and trained on Tuesday, but is not in shape. However, Grubauer and wingers Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi could be back in the line-up against Haie on Friday.
Missing parts. Colorado seemed to sorely miss its # 1 goalkeeper and top two right wingers in consecutive losses at St. Louis – the first time the Avs have lost consecutive regular games in more than two months.
“We know how important it is. We know where Vegas is and how good a team is, ”said Avs captain Gabe Landeskog about the showdown on Wednesday. “It’s definitely going to be big. Excited to see what kind of jump and energy we can come up with. “
Footnote. The Avalanche signed defense attorney Justin Barron on Tuesday on his three-year entry-level deal. 19-year-old Barron was the club’s 2020 first-round draft pick (25th overall). He will report to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL. Barron was the captain of the Halifax Mooseheads that season, scoring 31 points (eight goals) in 33 games for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Club. He played in all seven games for Canada’s World Junior Championship team in late December and early January, finishing the silver medalists up 5.