Thibault: The Avalanche are on a mission
First-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Jocelyn Thibault played 586 games during his 15-season NHL career. He played for the Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabers, scoring 238 wins. He coached the Avalanche goaltenders for two seasons and now owns the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL. He has agreed to work with the NHL.com team to deal with hot issues in front of the League’s 32 nets.
Like all of you, I followed the first two games of the Western Conference final with interest and I draw the following conclusion: the Colorado Avalanche are on a mission.
You see it in the way he plays. The players are aggressive, they want to win, they work like crazy and they exploit their speed. The center player Nathan MacKinnon perfectly personifies this mentality, he who has 16 points, including 10 goals, in 12 games so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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We feel that the three consecutive eliminations in the second round between 2019 and 2021 had the effect of a spark. Remember, last year MacKinnon was dejected when he went on vacation and he expressed that he was tired of losing because he is a proud player. However, he had promised that he and his teammates would learn from this experience. We see that the players have learned lessons.
I love watching the Avalanche play because they have a very offensive style of play. In hockey terms, they are said to lean a little forward, but this is a team that was built that way, especially with young offensive defensemen. Yes, they sometimes make mistakes, but they have the punch to make up for it. After all, they are the best offense in the NHL so far in the playoffs (average of 4.58 goals per game) and they are able to match the offensive talent of the Edmonton Oilers. We saw it in Game 1, when they won an 8-6 attacking festival.
I was expecting a fast and attack-oriented series, but I admit I was extremely impressed with the number of goals in the first game. You almost never see that in the playoffs.
In recent years, the NHL has become increasingly young, fast and offensive, as we particularly noticed throughout the regular season with many high-scoring games. Abnormally, we have seen a lot of advances lost this year in the playoffs. The example that comes to mind is the Florida Panthers, who won three straight games in which they trailed in the first round against the Washington Capitals before eliminating them. In Game 1 between the Avalanche and the Oilers, the latter tried to tie the game 7-7 in the third period. We are far from the hockey of 20 or 30 years ago.
I would almost say that we pay less attention to the defensive aspect of the game, and from my perspective as a former goaltender, the only thing you can do in this context is to fight on every shot and hope for the best. You have to put your expectations aside and recognize that this is an attacking game and there is nothing you can do about it.
As for the Oilers, I’m going to wait until they’re home before counting them down. So far, they’ve played very well at home with a 4-2 record, including three straight wins and a combined 11 goals to just four for their opponents in this streak. Unsurprisingly, the next game will be the most important because Edmonton can’t afford to fall 0-3 against a team like the Avalanche.
In goal, much was made of the need to bounce back to mike smith. It’s not easy for him in the No. 1 games this season, with a total of 13 goals against. Unfortunately, the second game didn’t turn out in his favor either – a 4-0 loss. He made 36 saves and faced some tricky situations for a keeper on Thursday, such as Artturi Lehkonen’s deflection after a turnover from Darnell Nurse and the descent to 2-on-1 of Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen.
Video: EDM@COL, #2: Rantanen completes Kadri’s pass
The 40-year-old has experience and is known for being able to bounce back quickly. He’s done it since the start of the playoffs. For Smith and the Oilers, it’s very simple: we go one game at a time and we don’t think about the next one.
Francouz does the work
The Guardian Pavel Francouz entered the series with the upper body injury suffered by Darcy Kuemper in Game 1, and I can tell you that it’s not an easy situation having experienced it myself with the Montreal Canadiens in 1998. We eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins with Andy Moog in net in first round, and then I had to replace him in the second round against the Buffalo Sabers because he was injured.
It’s not easy, because you don’t have the same rhythm as the other players around you, who play every other day. Fortunately, Francouz had played in the first round against the Nashville Predators, when Kuemper suffered an eye injury. He did very well in the last game with a 24-save shutout, after allowing three goals on 16 relief shots in the first game. At 32, he is no greenhorn. He has lived and he’s been in the NHL for a few years, so it serves him well.
No matter what will happen with Kuemper’s health, I don’t think the goaltender will decide the fate of the Avalanche. The team is so talented offensively that the goalkeeper just has to not cause them to lose. The big guns will take care of the rest.
*Comments collected by Hugues Marcil, console operator NHL.com