We’re just one day from the start of the Western Conference Final. The Oilers have been waiting on their hands for the last few days after disposing of the Calgary Flames in five games. The Avalanche needed six to take care of the Blues. Colorado is a supremely talented team that scores a bunch of goals. They’ve got puckmoving defencemen, and a lethal power play to boot. Can the Oilers make any headway against the beasts of the West?
We asked editor Evan Liu from our sibling site over at Mile High Hockey for help to fill in some gaps. Thanks go to Evan for his time.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Copper and Blue: The Avalanche score a lot of goals. They averaged fourth in the league in goals a game during the regular season, averaging 3.76 goals a game. They’re scoring in bunches this postseason, averaging 4.3 goals per game in ten games so far. Will this number come down anytime soon, or will they continue to just crush it against the Oilers?
Evan Liu: I think this number will stay about the same place it’ll be at. Colorado has scored at least three goals in all but two of the games they’ve played in this postseason. In Game 6 against the Blues, all three goals came from the bottom six of the Avs, demonstrating that the big guns are not the only source of offense the Avs. I think the numbers will become more stabilized against the Oilers. However, with each team’s powerful offense it wouldn’t surprise me if we get a couple high scoring games between these two teams.
Copper and Blue: The Avalanche’s power play has just cruised along with a 34.5% success rate. What makes Colorado’s power play so lethal?
Evan Liu: The puck movement on the power play is the main reason the power play is so successful. Having a point guy like Cale Makar really helps. He is practically a fifth forward on the ice and is always making moves to create space. His movement then leads to chances from multiple spots from Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen on the top unit. The second unit is just as good, as Alex Newhook has his own spot in the bumper position in the middle where he’s scored a handful of goals. However, losing the puck on the blue line can be impactful, and we’ve seen it a couple of times - even if it hasn’t resulted in a goal for the opposition.
Copper and Blue: Cale Makar is just a freak on skates. He’s leading the Avs defencemen in ice time, averaging nearly 27 minutes a game this postseason. He’s tied for the team lead in points with 13 in 10 games. Is there any weakness in his game?
Evan Liu: To be quite transparent, it’s hard to find anything wrong with him - maybe just the fact that the baby-faced assassin can’t grow a playoff beard. Jokes aside, Makar is a wizard on the ice. He creates space, those hips don’t lie, and set the record for most points in the first round by a defensemen with 10 points in four games against the Nashville Predators. One weakness he did have at the end of the second round was that he struggled with the puck sometimes. He ran into the post awkwardly earlier against the Blues and it looks to have affected him a little bit. Otherwise, he’s near perfect.
Copper and Blue: Goaltender Darcy Kuemper has a fairly pedestrian .904 SV% in these playoffs, he’s holding a -2.2 GSAA at the end of two rounds. Are you concerned with Darcy Kuemper’s performance so far, or do you believe he’ll bump his play up a bit in the third round?
Evan Liu: Darcy Kuemper has been the scapegoat for the Avs in their two losses in the postseason. He certainly wasn’t great towards the latter end of the second round but he is more than capable of leading the Avs to the Stanley Cup. After having a subpar end to the series, Kuemper will need to step up his game. Josh Manson did Kuemper’s job in Game 6 that might’ve kept them from playing a Game 7 Sunday night. He has the team ahead of him. If they get beat, they will rely on him to save them, literally. He will need to step it up, whether or not he will is for time to tell.
Copper and Blue: Finally, who wins this series? Why?
Evan Liu: The Oilers have a heck of a team. Obviously, with names like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Evander Kane, they’ll score with will. They will bring the heat more often than the Preds and Blues. However, there are several questions to be raised about the defensive depth of the Oilers along with everyone’s favorite goaltender, Mike Smith. He will either put on a masterclass, or nearly blow it like he did in Game 4 against the Calgary Flames by letting in a 150 foot goal.
This series is going to be back-and-forth action. It’s going seven games. I think home ice will play a role in almost every single game. I’m picking the Avs in 7.
*Editor’s note: I’m not sure if we can handle a seven games series against Colorado.
Thanks go to Evan for his answers, and his time.
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