Coyotes to face Colorado Avalanche team with Stanley Cup ambition
Beating the Nashville Predators was one thing. Beating the Colorado Avalanche is entirely another thing.
The Arizona Coyotes have a whole new challenge on Wednesday when they begin a series against the Western Conference’s second place finisher in 2019-20. Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet cracked a sobering joke when asked what Colorado’s strengths are.
“You got an hour?” he replied. “They’re highly-skilled. They’re hard on the puck. They’re top 10 in most categories. They’ve got arguably one of the best players or best player in the league [in Nathan MacKinnon]. Just a well-rounded team. They’re built to win right now. It’s a big challenge for our hockey club. We’re excited about playing them, though.”
A big challenge, indeed. Colorado ranked top-10 in points percentage (3rd), regulation wins (2nd), goals per game (4th), goals against per game (6th), shots per game (9th) and offensive zone faceoff win percentage (9th).
They were outside of the top 10, however, in both power play and penalty kill. In the round robin games, though, the Avs had four goals on 16 power plays.
“It will be a big deal,” Tocchet said of the special teams battle. “But I watched the bubble games here, the round robin, and their power play was pretty good. They zip it around. Power plays, they get hot, they get cold, they got hot, they get cold, but they have that kind of talent and I don’t think teams like the Avalanche get really cold very often for long stretches. You might go 0-for-4 sometimes, I get it, 0-for-5. But when you have that kind of talent and the way they zip it around, they’re dangerous.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box. We can’t give them six, seven, eight power plays a game.”
Headlining the Avalanche lineup is MacKinnon, a Hart Trophy finalist who had 35 goals and 93 points this season. MacKinnon has 115 goals the last three seasons combined.
“He’s X factor number one,” Tocchet said. “I’m not sure you can just shut him down. … You have to limit his chances. He’s outstanding off the rush. Great at countering mistakes, you make a mistake, he can counter it very well. And one thing, he doesn’t get tired. He’s a guy that can play a lot of minutes, double-shifts a lot, takes a lot of O-zone faceoffs. I’m not sure one line can take him on. I think it’s going to have to be a committee. And he scores big goals for them.”
MacKinnon averaged 21:13 per game this season, the ninth-most among forwards in the NHL.
But then there are forwards Gabriel Landeskog, who had 34 goals and 75 points a year ago, and Mikko Rantanen, who had more than 80 points in each of his last two full seasons. Defenseman Cale Makar is a Calder Trophy finalist with 50 points this season. Winger Andre Burakovsky had a career-high 20 goals in just 58 games in his first season in Colorado. The list goes on.
It should go without saying then, that it’s imperative the Coyotes come prepared. Tocchet indicated Tuesday that he didn’t like his team’s most recent practice.
“We’ve got to get off the cloud and back to work as fast as we can, because we’re playing a team that is built to win a Stanley Cup,” Tocchet said. “So we have to be ready to go and we need everybody back on earth right now.”
The Avalanche are favored -290 to win the series. They’re +600 to win the Stanley Cup, the third-highest odds behind Vegas and Tampa Bay.
Source: Caesar’s Sportsbook via ESPN
The Coyotes went 1-0-1 against the Avalanche this season.
The two teams squared off on Oct. 12 in Arizona’s fourth game of the season and second road game. The Coyotes lost 3-2 in overtime as Nazem Kadri, Tyson Jost and Burakovsky each had a goal in that game on Antti Raanta. Michael Grabner and Nick Schmaltz scored on Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz.
Arizona and Colorado played one another again on Nov. 2. Christian Dvorak, Phil Kessel and Conor Garland each scored in a 3-0 win with Darcy Kuemper in goal. Francouz started that game for the Avs, too.
— Forward Nick Schmaltz practiced Tuesday and is feeling better. He missed the entirety of the Nashville series.
— Goaltender Antti Raanta practiced Tuesday for more than half an hour and is “getting closer.” Adin Hill is still the backup to Darcy Kuemper.