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Screen Shots: Sizing Up Avalanche vs. Oilers and Bruins, Capitals Hit Hard

We're about to get a spicy battle between Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid, and the surgery to Brad Marchand and Tom WIlson will put their respective teams in a tough spot to start 2022-23.
Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid

It’s time once again for our weekly Screen Shots column, in which we offer some thoughts on a couple of hockey issues in smaller bites. Let’s get to it:

– The Colorado Avalanche punched their ticket to the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 win over the plucky St. Louis Blues Friday night, setting up a showdown between two of the NHL’s biggest superstars – Oilers center Connor McDavid, and Avs counterpart Nathan MacKinnon. But when you break down the big picture between the two Western Finalists, you have to give the advantage to Colorado.

All things considered, McDavid is the best player in this series, almost single-handedly willing the Oilers to a number of wins thus far in the post-season. However, MacKinnon is in the conversation as one of the NHL’s very best talents. And in every category, the Avs have more depth and skill.

Take Friday’s Game 6 win for Colorado: it wasn’t MacKinnon who ended the Blues’ season. It also wasn’t Avs stars Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri or Cale Makar. No, it was Avs’ third-line center J.T. Compher, who had a pair of goals, and fourth-line center Darren Helm, who netted the game-winner with 5.6 seconds left in regulation. When you’re getting that type of contribution from your foot soldiers, you can beat just about anyone.

Meanwhile, although the Oilers have been more explosive on offense (averaging a playoff-best 4.33 goals-for per game), their defense corps has generated fewer points than Colorado’s – the Avs have received 40 points from their seven D-men, while Edmonton has 30 points from their six blueliners. And though Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper’s individual numbers (including a .904 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average) aren’t head-and-shoulders above Oilers starter Mike Smith’s (2.70 G.A.A., .927 SP), Kuemper was the better regular-season performer and in three of the Avs’ four wins over St. Louis, he allowed only two goals.

Almost assuredly, the Oilers will give the Avs a run for their money. But Edmonton was fortunate to narrowly beat the L.A. Kings in seven games in the first round, then shut down Calgary’s well-balanced group in Round Two. The Avs steamrolled the Nashville Predators in a four-game first-round sweep, then outlasted a very competitive Blues squad in the second round.

Fans and media will be focusing on McDavid and MacKinnon, and that’s good for the game – you want your best players to be marketable and difference-makers at this time of year. But the Oilers don’t have the balance and overall threat the Avalanche do. Only one other team does, and they’re the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions in Tampa Bay. Expect the Avs and Lightning to be the last two teams standing, and a Cup Final that should be thrilling.

– Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand underwent major surgery on both hips Friday, and is expected to be sidelined for six months. This comes on the heels of news Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson went under the knife to repair a knee injury, and is projected to miss six-to-eight months. That puts both agitators extraordinaire out of the lineup to start the 2022-23 campaign, and miss a significant chunk of time.

Considering the Bruins and Capitals were two of the lower-seeded playoff teams this season, the absence of Marchand and Wilson could be the difference between Boston and Washington making the post-season next year – particularly the Bruins, if, as many believe, star center Patrice Bergeron retires this summer. Boston being without two-thirds of their best line may be all the opening an Atlantic Division rival like the Ottawa Senators need to push past the Bruins and keep Boston out of a playoff spot for the first time since 2015-16. Similarly, the Caps, who finished fourth in the Metropolitan Division this season, could be leapfrogged by the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders or New Jersey Devils, and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.

As we saw this year with the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks, a poor start to the season can be all that’s required to bury a team’s playoff aspirations. As the truism goes, you can’t win a Cup at the start of the year, but you can make it impossible to win one with a bad start to the year. With Wilson and Marchand out of action until November at the earliest, the Capitals and Bruins are going to be challenged and under immense pressure to be competitive right out of the gate.



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