Another Round 2 series kicks off tonight with the first Avalanche-Sharks game and it should be quite a clash of style. Colorado beat the Flames at their own game in the first round by using their speed in a much more efficient and dangerous way than their opponents. Just look at how much offense MacKinnon off controlled entries than Johnny Gaudreau, something our own Mike Kelly detailed in-depth in the video down below.
Speed defined the Avalanche this season and their battle against Calgary only made this more apparent. They averaged 11.2 rush chances per game in the first round, excluding overtime. No team was even over 9.0 in the first round, and no team that made it to the second round managed more than 7 a game. If they can speed up the pace of the game and force the Sharks to play their way, they have a good shot at an upset, because the Sharks biggest Achilles heel just so happens to be their rush defense.
Despite one of the best bluelines in the NHL, the Sharks got burned by speed attacks all season and the trend continued against Vegas in Round 1. The Knights scored seven goals off the rush in seven games and, while they have a lot of talented players, they don’t have a threat on the level of Nathan Mackinnon.
The speedy Avs center recorded 12 rush chances in Round 1, the most of any player and three more than the best Shark despite playing just five games and that was against a Calgary team filled with outstanding speed of its own.
What San Jose lacks in speed, however, it makes up in experience and size. Simply being big doesn’t mean much, but the Sharks use their size and toughness as well as anyone. They create a ton of traffic in front of the net and generally are one of the most dominant inner slot team in the league.
Colorado might be much faster, but that speed can be a double-edged sword. Between Joe Pavelski (if healthy), Evander Kane, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl, the Sharks have four players who finished top 25 in inner slot shots this past season. Pavelski also led the NHL in deflections, while Hertl, Kane, and Logan Couture were all top 30 in offensive rebounds recovered.
Long story short, San Jose makes life hard on opposing goalies while the Avs struggled to keep the front of the net clear for Philipp Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov all season. All those categories in the graphic above where the Sharks are top 10? Well, defensively, Colorado just so happens to be bottom 10 in each and every one of them.
Watch out tonight for a massive clash in philosophies and pace. If the Sharks can slow down the game, establish the cycle and disrupt Grubauer, they’ll have a very good chance to win. But if they can’t contain Colorado’s speed and the game’s pace picks up, I doubt they will be able to keep up. It may sound cliché, but whoever can impose their style of play will win this one.