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The Colorado Rockies are one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball and traded away the best player in franchise history for pennies this summer. The Denver Broncos have cycled through ineffective quarterbacks and logged just one winning season since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season. The Nuggets are all kinds of fun—I mean, have you seen this Nikola Jokic guy—but are unlikely to win a championship with guard Jamal Murray out for the rest of the year.
That means the Colorado Avalanche are probably the best professional sports team in the city right now. The Avs lead the NHL in goals scored per game during the regular season, they have Nathan Mackinnon (one of the best hockey players alive), and most betting sites currently give the young, superstar-laden team the best odds of winning the Stanley Cup this year.
What we’re saying is that if there was ever a time to become an Avs fan, it’s now. Before the team begins its playoff run on May 17 against the St. Louis Blues, we put together a beginner’s guide to understanding Denver’s hockey team, so you know at least a little about who you’re cheering for.
The Best Line in Hockey
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabe Landeskog make up what is widely considered one of the best lines in hockey. Along with MacKinnon’s otherworldly stick skills and speed, Rantanen is one of the league’s top goal scorers, and Landeskog, the team’s captain, is having his best all-around season. Watch for this trio to do a whole lot of damage when they are on the ice together.
Don’t Make Nathan MacKinnon Angry
MacKinnon isn’t just one of the best hockey players in the world, he’s also one of the most intense. He pushes everyone on the team to be better and even argues with coaches on the bench. When he’s angry, MacKinnon has been known to dismantle an entire opposing team by himself for a goal (see below). Sometimes, he doesn’t even smile after such efforts.
Defend the Goalie’s Health
Oftentimes playoff hockey comes down to goaltending. And the Avalanche have one of the best protecting their net: Philipp Grubauer, who has the fifth-lowest goals-against average in the league this year. In two of the team’s last three playoff runs, however, goaltending injuries derailed the team’s hopes—including last year, when Grubauer suffered a lower leg injury in the Western Conference semifinals. The Avs backups, Devan Dubnyk and Jonas Johansson, are worrying alternatives. The Avs likely can’t overcome a Grubauer injury.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Sam Girard are all very adept at providing protection for Grubauer. But their passing ability and speed also add to the team’s offensive firepower, making them some of the most well-rounded defenseman in the league.
We just need to look at this Cale Makar snipe again.
— p – Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) May 9, 2021
Joe Sakic’s Roster-Building Superpowers
We keep saying that the Avs have some of the league’s best players at each position. That’s thanks to Avs legend Joe Sakic, who is the team’s general manager and is also a master at making trades. He is the architect of a roster transformation that began with dealing away disgruntled superstar Matt Duchene in 2016 and continued this past offseason when he added key pieces like forward Brandon Saad.
Bednar Can Coach
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar is one of the winningest head coaches in team history. But his beginning with the team in 2016 was rough: The previous head coach, Patrick Roy, quit right before the season, and Bednar watched his squad turn in one of the NHL’s worst full-season performances in decades. However, the Avs stuck with Bednar, and he’s used his innovative schemes and cool Canadian demeanor to propel the franchise to the top of the league.
— AltitudeTV (@AltitudeTV) April 23, 2021
Familiar Playoff Foes
The NHL realigned its divisions for this COVID-19-affected season. Instead of two conferences, the league created four divisions, which are based on geography. Four teams from the Avalanche’s Honda West Division (yes, it’s sponsored) will face off in the first two rounds. The Avs first round opponent will be the St. Louis Blues and fellow Stanley Cup favorite, the Vegas Golden Knights, will more than likely be Colorado’s second round opponent if they win. The Avs have already played each of those teams eight times during the 2021 season, so these early-round games are expected to be pretty heated. The Avs would still have come out on top in four straight series to win the whole thing.
You Can Probably Watch in Person
The Avalanche’s home ice at Ball Arena is hosting a limited number of fans for each round of the playoffs. And while many of the first-round games will only be on local sports network Altitude, which is still unavailable to Comcast and Dish Network subscribers because of a continued contract dispute, NBC networks will show almost every playoff game after that.