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Predators vs. Avalanche Series Preview: Avs Defense

An inside look at the Avs blueline.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche have an interesting group of defensemen. They have a two-way defenseman, an enforcer, and both a defensive- and offensive-minded one-way defenseman.

The Avs currently have 9 healthy defensemen on the roster, along with one on injured reserve. They have a long-time Av, a former Pred, and numerous potential up-and-coming stars.

Here are the 9 guys who will be trying to cool off the Preds’ hot sticks, plus the guy who will watch the first round in a suit.

Erik Johnson

The best defenseman on the Avalanche right now. The alternate captain has stayed relatively consistent in his decade of Colorado hockey, with his 25 points good for second most by an Avs defenseman.

Unfortunately for Johnson, he will be out 5-7 weeks with a fractured patella, meaning the Avalanche would have to make the Western Conference Finals if they want to see #6 on the ice in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Top Pairing

Without Johnson, Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie will make up the top pairing, and they couldn’t play more opposite styles of hockey.

Zadorov has 103 penalty minutes in 77 games, nearly double the amount of penalty minutes of the next guy. The 6’5”, 230 lb 22-year-old plays the enforcer role for the Avalanche, and he definitely knows how to do it well. He added up 278 hits this year, and just look at this hit on Mark Schiefele from last season for an idea as to how those hits feel.

Although he hits hard, Zadorov’s downfall is his temper. It will start with a seemingly incidental penalty, like this high-sticking he took in the March 4th game against the Predators,

Then he takes a dumb penalty, as seen here when Ryan Hartman finally made Zadorov snap, and, well, you all remember what happened.

Offensively, he had 7 goals and 13 assists in his 77 games, which is not bad for a defenseman but it also means his shot shouldn’t be a huge worry for Rinne.

Zadorov’s linemate Tyson Barrie has 43 assists and 14 goals on the year. Barrie’s 22 penalty minutes and +/- of -15 complement Zadorov perfectly, as they are almost completely different players.

Defensively, neither is a major threat. Barrie is quick enough to stay in front of opposing forwards, but that -15 plus/minus speaks for itself.

[Editor’s note: Barrie’s 5v5 defensive heat map from HockeyViz certainly does not bode well for the Avs either]

Barrie’s offensive ability can be huge for the Avalanche this series. While his shot is nothing special, it’s enough to warrant him being closely guarded, because if he is given the space to make moves and dish it to one of the many talented Avalanche forwards, Pekka Rinne could be in for a long night.

The good news for the Preds? In the last five games for Colorado, the three playoff teams (San Jose, LA, Anaheim) held Barrie to a single assist with a combined plus/minus of -5, and he only got off six shots. If Nashville can replicate what the California teams did, Barrie and the Avalanche will be in for an interesting series.

The Second Pairing

Patrik Nemeth just finished up his 5th NHL season and seems to have discovered himself in Colorado. In his first 4 seasons—all with Dallas—Nemeth scored a whopping 0 goals while tallying 14 assists. He nearly doubled his assist total this season while also scoring the first 3 goals of his career.

If there’s one stat that sticks out for Nemeth, it’s his +/- this season. Nemeth finished at +27 in his 68 games played, which was the highest of any player on the team, and the 11th best +/- in the league.

Despite that number, Nemeth has been burned numerous times this season. If the Preds have a breakaway and the two players to beat are Nemeth and Jonathan Bernier, I like those odds.

[Editor’s note: here’s Nemeth’s defensive heat map to compare to Barrie’s. Better, but still not great]

If there is one thing that Nemeth has thrived at in Colorado, it’s getting under players’ skins. He’s Colorado’s Ryan Hartman, just not as skilled offensively. Need proof? Just google “Charles Hudon fires puck at Patrik Nemeth”.

Regardless of how this series turns out on the stat sheet for Nemeth, watching him and Hartman try to poke the bear for a few games will be fantastic.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A familiar face returns Thursday night in Nemeth’s partner, Sam Girard.

The 19-year-old totaled three points in five games for Nashville, but he showed flashes of his potential during those five games and has finished the regular season with 23 points in 73 games. His lack of NHL experience has meant that most of the points come against subpar teams, but there will come a day in the near future when Sammy G can give the Preds a run for their money.

The Avs have one of their top four guys of the future if they can hang onto Girard, but he hasn’t consistently shown his top-line potential just yet.

The Third Pairing

Mark Alt and Mark Barberio make up the projected 3rd pairing, and it ain’t pretty.

Let’s start with Alt. He’s played in seven games with Colorado—half of his career games. He’s yet to tally his first NHL point and hasn’t played enough for any advanced metrics to be applied to his stats, or lack thereof.

When I looked for Alt’s game tape, I found either fights or his high school football highlight reel. Something about that tells me he won’t be a huge worry

Barberio, on the other hand, has a bit more hockey under his belt than Alt. The journeyman has 13 points this season in 46 games, with a +/- of 6 and 31 penalty minutes. This third pairing will be interesting to watch, but the Preds could very easily give them fits.

[Final editor’s note: Barberio may have the best heat map of the group, though it likely comes against weaker opponents]

The Other Guys

And here’s the players you probably won’t see—unless someone gets injured.

Anton Lindholm

Another young defenseman with potential. Unfortunately for Lindholm, he has not shown enough to consistently be in the starting lineup. His last point did come against the Preds though, so take that how you will.

Duncan Siemens

Siemens has gone without a point in his last five games but also hasn’t played since March 24th against Vegas.

David Warsofsky

He’s played in 16 games for the Avs this year, totaling 5 points—all assists. Career numbers for him, but he likely won’t see the ice this round.