We love a first in the conference versus second wildcard team matchup, because mostly it makes our job in making projections a little easier. It’s easy to say “well yeah, that team that finished first in the whole conference and has been locked into the playoffs for like the past two months has the edge here.” And that may well be true! If we trust that the standings are at least close to an accurate marker of true talent, we would assume that it is. But in the interest of being thorough, let’s dig into some of the advanced metrics and see how well these two teams match up.
Please note that all of these stats are at 5-on-5. All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
5v5 Chances For
So what this tells us is that we have one team that tends to have the puck more often than they allow their opponent to have it, and one that tends to give up more chances than they create. On average, the Flames tend to have the edge in territorial play, creating, on average, about 54 percent of the shot attempts on any given night. But they aren’t just taking the lead in the shot volume battle in this matchup, they’re also getting the better of the shot quality, as they tend to generate more quality chances than they allow. The Avalanche, on the other hand, have tended to bleed more shot attempts and quality chances than they’ve been able to create. So, in conclusion, the Flames have generated more and better shots than the Avalanche during the regular season. So that’s one advantage.
5v5 Top Line Stats
But let’s dig a little deeper into those numbers. If we’re also pulling narratives on this series, one is that we’ve got high powered top line against high powered top line, two of the most prolific lines in the league, both slugging it out. And this isn’t an unfair narrative—the Avalanche's top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen against Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm should be a good and fun matchup, if the coaches opt to run this thing one for one.
And pound for pound, blow for blow, this would be a pretty even match. The Flames’ top line has slightly out-produced the Avalanche’s in terms of goals scored, and tend to generate more high danger chances per game. The Avalanche’s top line, though, generates more raw shot attempts per game, and has tended to hold more of a territorial advantage over their opponents than the Flames’ has. So, as a person who tends to value quality chances more than shot attempts, I want to give the Flames the advantage in this area as well, but we could just as easily call this one a draw. You can make your own decision on this one.
5v5 Depth Stats
When we move to look at these two teams’ depth contributions, that is, coming from anyone beyond that top line, the Flames get a good bit more separation once again. In short, outside of their top lines, the Flames have scored more goals and generated both more raw chances and high danger shots. Additionally, when the Flames’ top line is not on the ice, they’re still, generally speaking, able to drive play positively, while the Avalanche are not. In fact, without MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen on the ice, the Avalanche tend to both be out-shot and out-chanced. Their depth players just haven’t been able to bring the same level of production. So that’s another advantage in the Flames’ column.
5v5 Chances Allowed
It can be a bit more difficult to quantify defense, so we’re going to get a little creative here and approximate, based on what each team gives up. And, huh, would you look at that, the Flames are going to take this one, as well. There really isn’t any use trying to dress this one up or draw out the point. During the regular season, the Avalanche gave up more goals, shot attempts, and high danger chances than the Flames did. And this may not have been a result so much of the efforts of their defensemen specifically as it was the whole Flames team just limiting the chances that they gave up, but the result still stands. The Avalanche would have to work that much harder to get shots on net.
And speaking of nets, that brings us to our last point.
5v5 Goalie Stats
Finally, we’ve got the real wildcard. We love to say that goalies are voodoo, and that still feels appropriate to bring up here. Because they are. It could get weird.
Anyway, this all works out to looking like pretty even of a matchup, by the numbers. Varlamov has been positioned as the pretty clear starter, and while he’s posted a better save percentage than Smith (who’s starting tonight), Rittich comes in above him there, as well as in high danger save percentage (where each of these goalies is actually slightly above average). So who has the edge in this one? It depends on the night. Tonight? Probably the Avalanche. But on, say, Saturday, if it’s Varlamov versus Rittich? Probably the Flames, if these results hold. But, of course, that’s a big if. Because, as we said, voodoo. Things of that nature.
There you have it! It looks like the team that finished first in the conference does indeed have the edge here. So if you’ve got the Flames in this series, we don’t blame you. It’s a safe bet. But we’re also contractually obligated to say that it’s the playoffs! And weird things happen! So *voiceover actor voice* tune in tonight to see if any weirdness unfolds!