Taking a quick look at the Avalanche lineup, including strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
Power Play Line 1
MacKinnon – Wilson – Rantanen
The top PP unit is anchored by MacKinnon on the left wall and Rantanen on the right wall, with Barrie playing QB at the blue line. Landeskog will play down low near the goal line, and Wilson will take up a position in the middle of the ice. Look for significant focus on passing between Barrie, MacKinnon and Rantanen with rapid puck movement from side to side, usually using the point. One-timers from either side or at the point are the most common scoring tactic, although some plays to down low to Landeskog along the goal line are used as well. Many goals are scored by tip-in from Rantanen or Landeskog, off shots from Barrie or MacKinnon. Less common, a feed to Wilson in the middle will generate some scoring chances, but his position is primarily as a threat to keep penalty killers honest and not pinching to pick off passes.
Power Play Line 2
Makar – Compher/Jost – Kerfoot
This line is structured in a similar way to the top unit. The focus is still on passing through the point with rapid movement. Players manning the boards on this unit are not as adept at puck protection and will not hold onto the puck as long, instead looking for rapid puck movement at all times with quick shots coming from any angle. Soderberg down low, especially, likes to drive the puck hard to the net. Girard shoots less frequently than Barrie on the first unit, and when he does, they’re often pinpoint wrist shots instead of big one timers. Goals from this line come from rebounds, tip plays and drives to the net, or pinpoint wrist shots, more often than huge shots. Adding Makar to one wing on this unit is a significant change and may change the complexion of this unit as his strengths and tendencies become more obvious.
Line 1 (The scoring line)
This is a puck control line. All three players are solid puck control and can score with the best lines in the NHL. They will play a heavy game, focused on puck control on the low boards. Landeskog and MacKinnon are both threats to drive the seam off the half-boards and establish lengthy zone possession using the cycle. Rantanen will sometimes be inserted into this line in place of Kerfoot to concentrate scoring chances at critical points in the game.
Landeskog (34g 41a 75p): Gabriel is one of the best puck protection forwards in the NHL. He can control the puck in the corners and is skilled at finding passes in the slot. He is a defensively responsible winger and has moderate speed and a good shot that is heavy and moderately quick. He can be thrown off his game if the game gets chippy, but will also be a stabilizing force on the team in many situations.
MacKinnon (41g 58a 99p): Nathan may be the most skilled player in the world at this very moment. He has an extremely accurate and hard shot and is among the fastest skaters in the NHL, with the quick hands to match, and great vision of the ice. He leads the league and the team in controlled zone entries, gaining the zone with a nearly 90% success rate and seeing 55% of his zone entries turn into scoring chances (these are both top among remaining playoffs teams by a huge margin). He is a decent defender, but can get lost in the defensive zone on occasion, sometimes over-committing to the puck.
Kerfoot (15g 27a 42p): Alex is a decent puck mover with an adequate shot. He has a quick release, and decent accuracy, but lacks power on the shot. He is a bit undersized (5’10” 170#) and can sometimes be pushed around in the offensive and defensive zones. However, his quickness and edge control let him compliment the top line by providing options for passing and retrieving pucks and occasionally banging in goals.
Line 2 (The big body line)
This is a line with players who use their size and strength well. While not the quickest skaters on the team, all three are big bodies with physical presence and the ability to score. They also use the cycle game, although with less speed than the top line. A big body in front of the net is a common position to see with this group.
Rantanen (31g 56a 87p): Mikko led the NHL in points for the first third of the season and despite having late-season injuries, remained a scoring threat whenever he was on the ice. He’s a huge body (6’4″, 215#) who uses his size well, but he’s also an elite puck handler with great vision. He is a competent defender who is very skilled at generating creative breakout passes and controlled rushes.
Soderberg: (23g 26a 49p) “Big” Carl is another large player (6’3″ 210#). He has a good all around skills, without necessarily being elite at any of them. He has a quality shot, decent speed, good physical presence and is a solid defensive center. He can support the cycle well, but won’t dominate puck possession like MacKinnon or Rantanen, although he uses his size well in that effort. He is a top penalty killer and co-lead the team in short-handed goals this season.
Wilson: (12g 15a 27p) Colin is also a big body (6’1″ 225#) who uses his size well. His skating is not elite, but he has a quality shot and can score in tight to the net. He played only 63 games during the regular season, significant parts of it on the 4th line and getting under 10 minutes per game. However, he has shown some scoring touch during the latter part of the season and finds himself on the 2nd line and top power play unit.
Line 3 (The speed line)
This line is categorized by speed. Players on this line are likely ranked 2, 3 and 4 in speed on the Avalanche (behind MacKinnon) and it shows when they’re playing a forecheck game or setting up breakaway plays.
Calvert (11g 15a 26p): Matt is a speedster who may be the second fastest player on the team. He is great on the forecheck and penalty kill and wins puck battles along the boards, as well as adding a physical presence. He doesn’t have elite skill with the puck or passing, but can find open ice to play with.
Compher (16g 16a 26p): JT (“Jimothy Timothy”) is a moderately skilled young center with good hands and good vision, he sometimes gets caught trying to fool defenders with fancy plays. When they work, they’re spectacular. He can get lost in the defensive zone sometimes, but is generally solid. He is a top Penalty Killer and co-lead the team in the regular season in short handed goals.
Nieto (4g 19a 23p): “Long Beach Native” Matt is also a speedy player on the forecheck. His puck skills don’t land him on scoring lines, but he provides energy and physical presence as well as defensive capability to match his speed. He gets significant penalty kill time and lead the Avalanche with 2 short handed goals in the first round against Calgary.
Line 4 (The grinding line)
Some of these players did not play the majority of the season (Bourque) or were traded mid-season (Brassard), or spent time on other lines in the past (Jost).
Brassard (14g 9a 23p): Derick is a solid 4th line grinder who can slip in some goals on occassion. Primarily noted for his physical and defensive play, he plays a gritty game and can wear down opposing lines. He will get some penalty kill time and sometimes plays on the 2nd power play unit.
Jost (11g 15a 26p): Tyson spent time playing on the top 2 lines in past seasons. Although still quite young, his low shooting percentage and Colorado’s depth in the middle have pushed him to the 4th line, where he plays a role as a zone entry specialist and adding scoring to this group. He will slot into other lines in some situations when the coach is looking for scoring and spends time anchoring the second power play, as well as some penalty killing.
Bourque (2g 6a 8p): Gabriel is a physical player who doesn’t score much. He is fast, but lacks the puck control to take advantage of it. He is a good forechecker and solid defensively and plays significant penalty kill time.
Defense Pair 1
Johnson (7g 18a 25p): Erik is a big defender with very solid defensive zone skills. He is a former defender for Team USA and #1 overall pick, who brings together physical play and moderately skilled puck moving and good skating. His scoring touch has decreased, but his defensive play has likely improved in recent years, although his 2% shooting this season is at least partly bad luck. He get significant penalty kill time and will be tasked to “shut down” opposing scorers.
Girard: (4g 23a 27p): Sam is an elite skater. He demonstrates edge control that rivals the best in the NHL and he uses it to great effect. He is among the top defender in the league at successful zone exits and uses his skill in the offensive zone to drive one power play unit, as well as to make significant even-strength chances. He is undersized and although strong, sometimes his size hurts him.
Defense Pair 2
Barrie: (14g 45a 59p): Tyson is an elite scorer, among defensemen with good speed and good hands, as well as a very accurate shot. He’s the anchor of the top power play unit and has great offensive chemistry with MacKinnon, allowing them to set up scoring chances that others may not see. He frequently joins the rush in the offensive zone. He sometimes gets lost in the defensive zone, although his defensive play has improved this year over previous years.
Zadorov: (7g 7a 14p): Nikita is a big-body Russian player who uses his physical presence to hit and play a heavy defensive game. He led the league in hits last season and was in the top 10 again this year. He has a powerful shot, but doesn’t use it a lot. His skating is sometimes awkward, but his defensive play is still solid in most situations.
Defense Pair 3
Cole: (2g 13a 15p): Ian won multiple cups with Pittsburgh and is a defensive anchor on the penalty kill. His skill is primarily physical and defensive and he does not drive offensive zone play as much as some. His speed has decreased in recent years, although not so much that he’s a liability.
Makar: Cale played his first game last week, scoring his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. He is an elite puck-moving defender, who may join the ranks of Erik Karlsson or Noah Nanafin in the future as small, quick, active defenders with exceptional skating and puck handling. He will play some power play and penalty kill time during this series, as he was slotted into the lineup in favor of Nemeth, who was another penalty kill anchor.
Gruabauer (2.64gaa 0.917sv%) Philipp is an average size goaltender with great positional play. He is calm in net and tends to play with poise. He is not overly aggressive, but not passive and has played significantly better in the last third of the season and into the playoffs, leading to a 0.939 SV% in the first round, thoroughly dominating Calgary’s potent offense.
Varlamov (22.87gaa 0.909sv%) Semyon is an average size goaltender who is known for quick movements. His positional play can be weaker than other elite goaltenders at times, but he can make up for it with speed and power. His play this season placed him as the backup for the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. It is possible that he may not be re-signed for the 2019-20 season, as his contract is expiring, especially given his tendency to injury.
Other Line Combinations
During important situations such as after an icing call, or the last shift of a period or game, or with the goaltender pulled, unusual line combinations and pairings can be deployed.
Landeskog – Mackinnon – Rantanen
Barrie – Girard/Makar
6v5 Scoring (empty net)
Soderberg – Landeskog
Mackinnon – Wilson/Compher – Rantanen