2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Avalanche vs. Stars

Nazem Kadri spoke about how he reflected on his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and learned from his mistakes in order to become a more effective and successful player with the Colorado Avalanche.

Great offence or great defence — which are you taking in this second round matchup?

Colorado’s path to this point has been largely unchallenged since finishing second in the round robin. The Avs are coming off a five-game series win against an Arizona Coyotes team that was punching above its weight to get as far as it did before reality hit. Colorado outscored the Coyotes 22-8 and are living up to all expectations so far.

Game 6 of the Dallas Stars’ first-round series against the Calgary Flames saw something we don’t often see from the Stars: goals, and plenty of ‘em. Seven unanswered goals, to be exact, as the floodgates opened in the Edmonton bubble and Dallas ran off with the 7-3 win to close out the series.

However, Dallas’ calling card is its defence and great goaltending, which led them to another great regular season and strong start to these playoffs. Offence hasn’t always been easy to come by for the Stars, but they’ll need to keep that up if they’re to get past one of the top-scoring teams in the game in the Colorado Avalanche.

Here is a preview of this Round 2 series:

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ADVANCED STATS
Playoff 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick

Colorado: 58.19 CF%, 75.00 GF%, 96.08 SV%, 7.79 SH%, 1.039 PDO

Dallas: 49.87 CF%, 51.61 GF%, 92.79 SV%, 7.51 SH%, 1.003 PDO

TEAM STATS

Colorado: 30.6 PP%, 88.0 PK%, 31 GF, 13 GA

Dallas: 20.0 PP%, 76.7 PK%, 25 GF, 27 GA

HEAD TO HEAD RECORD

Colorado: 0-2-2

Dallas: 4-0-0

Colorado’s primary strength: Overwhelming offence and an elite power play. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, who has points in all eight playoff games, the Avalanche have been averaging a league-high 3.88 goals per game in the playoffs and finished off the Coyotes with back-to-back 7-1 wins to become just the seventh team in the past decade to have multiple seven-goal games in a single post-season.

They’ve scored 11 goals with the man advantage thanks to the dominant top unit of Nazem Kadri between Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog with Mackinnon and Cale Makar manning the points.

Dallas’ primary strength: While Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are still very much the faces of this team and the top two names on the club’s regular-season score sheet, Dallas is built from the blue line up. Headlined by Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell, Dallas has one of the top d-cores in the league and has fully embraced its defence-first style.

That the Stars have survived dry spells from their forwards is largely due to the strength of their defenders’ elite offensive talent – and while Klingberg has been among their top playmakers, it’s Heiskanen who’s driving this blue-line forward.

Heiskanen’s nine assists and 12 points gives him the team lead in both categories. League-wide, only one player ranks ahead of him in points: Nathan MacKinnon, with 13.

Whew, this is going to be fun.

Colorado’s primary weakness: Level of competition. Yes, the Avalanche have looked outstanding but they really haven’t been tested or pushed much this post-season and that could come back to bite them in the second round if they’re not ready. They fared well in the round robin, yet those games didn’t have the standard playoff vigour. Then, the Coyotes were completely outclassed against them in the conference quarterfinals. Colorado’s lone loss to Arizona was a game in which the Avs outshot the Yotes 51-21, however Darcy Kuemper stood on his head and made 49 saves. Against the Stars, the stakes are higher and the intensity and physicality will be significantly amplified.

Dallas’ primary weakness: Special teams so often prove to be the difference between a good team and a great one, and if the Stars are to get past Colorado in Round 2, they’ll need to do something about their penalty kill.

Their middling PK unit in the regular season has been exposed as one of the worst among remaining teams, allowing seven power-play goals through nine games in the bubble for a 76.7 kill rate. While it didn’t ultimately cost them the series against the Flames, they’ll need to seriously tighten things up as they stare down Colorado in Round 2 — because you can bet for certain the Avalanche are licking their chops as they eye an opportunity to excel via their league-best PP unit.

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Colorado Avalanche X-Factor: Colorado’s x-factor isn’t necessarily an individual but rather the overall mindset of the group. The Avalanche went 10 years without winning a playoff series before upsetting the first-place Flames in five games one year ago. While the Avs had a just-happy-to-be-here attitude last season, so to speak, MacKinnon said after eliminating the Coyotes his team feels differently in 2020.

“Our time has arrived,” MacKinnon told reporters after his four-point effort in Game 5. “We haven’t won anything, but it’s definitely a different feel after winning this series. We’re a hungry group. We’re a group that really cares about each other. We really feel we have great chemistry and there’s a good vibe to our team, so it’s great to get these playoffs off on the right foot.”

Dallas Stars X-Factor: The regular-season Stars weren’t exactly known for scoring goals – they had one of the lowest goal totals (178), above only the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings – but it was okay because they made up for it with great goaltending. Their 2.52 goals-against average over the course of 69 regular season games was the second-best rate in the league, behind just the Boston Bruins.

So far this post-season, however, the Stars have turned those stats on their heads. Now ranking in the middle of the pack in goals for, there’s a troubling trend brewing in the blue paint as they’ve so far let in the third-most goals among return-to-play teams.

It’s been a bit complicated. Anton Khudobin wasn’t the man we expected to see starting the bulk of Dallas’ post-season games, but Ben Bishop’s ongoing stint on the “unfit to play” list has meant he’s been unavailable for the majority of the Stars’ time in the bubble with no indication of when he’ll once again be the starter – or even if he should be. Bishop’s two post-season games – versus the Vegas Golden Knights in round-robin play and in Game 2 against the Flames – yielded an uncharacteristic 4.04 goals-against average and .862 save percentage, indicating he’s not yet himself.

While goaltending hasn’t ultimately proven too costly so far, it’s certainly concerning for a team whose goal-scoring – though up right now – has been known to dry up.

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