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Predators vs Avalanche Series Preview: Avs Forwards

What to look for with Colorado’s forward deployment.

Sports Illustrated

The First Line

I dont think it would be all that unfair to classify the Avs forwards as Nathan MacKinnon and everyone else, but lets at least give some credit to his linemates, who at the very least can serve literally and figuratively as wingmen to the Avs Maverick. Here’s a look at who MacKinnon’s linemates have been this season:

hockeyviz.com

MacKinnon’s is flanked by captain Gabriel Landeskog on the left, who joined MacKinnon after the Duchene trade, and the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Mikko Rantanen on his right. MacKinnon and Rantanen have been together all year. Add a dose of Landeskog; and they’ve created magic, nearly doubling the teams point total from a year ago. Rantanen is probably having the quietest 80+ point per game season of anyone in the league due to the sheer dominance of MacKinnon. If he doesn’t win the Hart, he’s surely going to finish in the Top-3. Check out this clip from SportsNet:

Just take a look at Colorado’s unblocked shot rates with and without MacKinnon on the ice. When he’s on the bench this team just isn’t very productive. That blue sea of sadness in front of the opponent net is no bueno for the Avs.

hockeyviz.com

What makes him so good? He’s second in the NHL in 5-on-5 primary points per sixty minutes, which is a measure that combines his goals and first assists by time on ice. The only player in the league with a higher total at even strength is Connor McDavid. If we look at all strength states, he’s again second, but this time just a shade behind Evgeni Malkin.

One of the primary drivers of offense is entering the offensive zone with control of the puck and doing something productive with it once you get there. MacKinnon is 9th in the league in controlled zone entries, and first on his team by a country mile, so he’s instrumental in that regard.

@CJTDevil

Once in the zone he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick as both a scorer and a distributor. Sure he has highlight reel goals and enviable speed, *yes he did race a short track speed skater * but he’s also 9th in the NHL in primary assists, and although the sample size below is relatively small, he’s an all around offensive contributor, not just a pure goal scorer.

@CJTDevil

Just how important has Colorado’s first line been? Take a look at how the Avs compare to Nashville in primary points (goals and first assists). The first three names on the Avs list are all members of their top line, with MacKinnon accounting for 75 primary points, Rantanen 57 and Landeskog 40.

@billus27

The Second Line

Alright, on to everyone else, since there will be times when MacKinnon and his two sidekicks won’t be on the ice. Here is the linemate matrix from ShiftChart from Saturday’s playoff clinching win over the Blues. Safe to assume they will roll out the same lines for game one in Nashville.

shiftchart.com

The Andrighetto-Jost-Kerfoot line will be treated as the second line. Kerfoot was signed as a college free agent last summer when he failed to sign with New Jersey. He’s fourth among Avs forwards in points with 43. Jost was the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and Andrighetto was acquired last spring in a trade with Montreal. They will receive the favorable zone starts behind the MacKinnon line. Avs coach Jared Bednar will look to them to hopefully provide some secondary scoring. Andrighetto is nearly a break-even possession player, but the rest of the line is in the 45%-46% range which is pretty brutal. Jost isn’t quite ready for prime time with just 22 points on the year (14 at even strength). His time will presumably come, but it’s not quite there yet at the NHL level. Colorado will more than likely struggle to generate any offensive without MacKinnon.

Tyson Jost celebrates scoring a goal against Minnesota
AP

The Third Line

Line three is a veteran line composed of Matt Nieto, Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau. Together they have 95 points, but these guys aren’t out there to fill the score sheet. This trio has the highest ratio of defensive zone starts on the team. They have a role to play shutting down the opponent, and they do have some rather admirable numbers in expected goals against.

Carl Soderberg was around a 45 point guy in Boston before signing with Colorado three years ago. Joe Sakic shoveled almost $25 million at him over five years and he was more than happy to take it. After a decent first year in Colorado, he’s yet another exhibit of why it’s not wise to throw money at depth guys, since he’s scored just 49 points in the last two seasons.

Carl Sodererg scoring in the same game Jost scored in
David Zalubowski/AP

Comeau has never been much of a scorer and Nieto is carving out a role as a third line depth guy. They aren’t much to write home about, but they have nearly 1,500 games of regular season NHL experience between them and although they don’t have much skill, they can be relied upon to put in a good effort, play fundamentally sound, and limit opportunities for the opponent.

The Fourth Line

That brings us to the fourth line and our old friend Colin Wilson. He will play the right side of this unit with J.T. Compher in the middle and Gabriel Bourque on the left side. Compher was a second round pick a few years ago by the Buffalo Sabres, and was acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. He has yet to show much of any offense at the NHL level, and now that he’s 23 it’s looking rather unlikely that he ever will. Gabriel Bourque may be the worst forward on the roster and will have a tough time finding work again in the NHL at seasons end. Colin Wilson is well, Colin Wilson. He doesn’t do much to generate offense either. There isn’t much to say about these fringe NHLers, other than the puck should be going in the net for the Preds if these guys are on the ice. How’s that for analysis?

Matchup Game

When the playoffs draw near, everyone gets enthralled with the match ups. It’s tough to build up animosity and really develop a game plan when you play a different team every night. Not that a team doesn’t have a strategy to deal with an opponent, but trying to figure out how to win a series is much different than a random game on a Tuesday in December— That all changes come playoff time.

The Soderberg line is the shut down line for the Avs, but which line will Bednar try to get them out against—JOFA? The Turris trio will be licking their chops if that’s the case, being left to feast on either the Jost line or Compher line. If this line starts filling the net, pay attention to whose on the ice for Colorado; it’s probably one of those two forward groups.

On the flip side, the Avalanche are all about Nathan MacKinnon and they will ride that horse until it breaks. On home ice, we can expect Coach Laviolette to get the Bonino line out against the MacKinnon line, but it shouldn’t go without being said that Kyle Turris has a well earned reputation for two-way play in the playoffs. So two match-ups to watch for are: who does Avs coach Jared Bednar try to get the Soderberg line matched up against— JOFA or Turris? Second, when Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, does he get a heavy dose of Nick Bonino, or will he get a helping of Kyle Turris as well?