Series Preview – Western Conference Final: Oilers vs. Avalanche

Speed, skill, and tight-checking hockey. These are the three things that we saw throughout most of the regular-season matchups between these two teams.

The Avs took the first two regular-season contests by scores of 3-2 in overtime and 2-1 in a shootout before the Oilers unleashed their firepower in a 6-3 win in their final game head-to-head.

Colorado has been the class of the NHL in the regular season for the past few years, and they will be looking to finally get over the hump here and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years. The Oilers are the underdogs in this series, but is that status misplaced? Let’s break this series down.

Offense

The Avalanche are one of the few teams in the league with a forward group that can rival Edmonton’s. We saw the McDavid, Draisaitl, and Kane line dominate one of the best lines in the NHL this season in the Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Lindholm trio.

I don’t foresee Colorado’s top line giving the Oilers too many fits, but the Avs are deeper than the Flames, and as we go deeper through the lineup, the concern grows a little bit. The Avalanche’s bottom-six will feature players like Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Compher, Andrew Cogliano, and Darren Helm, who have been key contributors in the playoffs thus far.

A few of the Oilers’ depth forwards have struggled recently, so Jay Woodcroft will need to be willing to make big adjustments if things don’t go Edmonton’s way early in the series. My greatest concern for Edmonton would be Archibald and Kassian getting caved as they did against Calgary.

The Oilers may need to shorten the bench in that case or make some personnel changes. The option to split up McDavid and Draisaitl to spread out the depth is also always an option if the depth begins to cause Edmonton problems. However, due to the Draisaitl injury, it is unknown if he can center his own line.

Defense

Colorado comes in with a stronger defense core. However, the injury to Samuel Girard changes things significantly for the Avs, who will have to play Josh Manson and Jack Johnson on the second pair.

Cale Makar is by far the best defenseman in the series, but the top 4 without Girard is, at the very least, not quite as intimidating. That could be an issue for Colorado if the McDavid line finds a way to penetrate their banged-up defense group more easily.

As for the Oilers, the main concern for me would be Duncan Keith. He has struggled mightily in this postseason with team-low numbers in zone denials and controlled entry against %. Keith has had his issues with gap control and lack of foot speed off the rush in his older age.

I fear that these problems may rear their ugly heads too often against a fast, skilled Colorado team. I would consider sheltering Keith on the third pair for this round, especially since Brett Kulak has been so excellent in these exact areas of the game where Keith has had problems.

Goaltending

While Darcy Kuemper was the more consistent goaltender than Mike Smith in the regular season, he has been quite average in the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far. In fact, Kuemper’s GSAx of -3 is the third-worst of any goaltender this postseason.

Mike Smith, in contrast, sits at a solid 8.8 GSAx. I suspect that the goaltending will not be as lop-sided in Edmonton’s favor as the numbers suggest, but it is one area where the Oilers can see a potential crack in the Avalanche armor.

Special Teams

These two teams both have a lethal powerplay coming into this series, with Colorado’s red-hot 34.5% being the most impressive unit. The Oilers have had by far the better PK in these playoffs with an 85.4% and multiple short-handed goals to go with it.

Edmonton’s top PK guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman will be key players in an effort to slow down the lethal Colorado powerplay.

Conclusion

The Colorado Avalanche had a .726 points percentage this season, and the Oilers had a .724 points percentage after making their mid-season coaching change.

Make no mistake, Jay Woodcroft’s Edmonton Oilers can defeat the Colorado Avalanche. They will need to continue their excellent team defense, slow down Colorado’s powerplay, and play a good transition game to keep the offense flowing. The Avs are the favorites, but this will be a competitive series.

Lane Golden

Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Lane is a passionate sports fan who uses an analytical lens to break down and discuss what is going on in the hockey world.

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