The Wraparound: Avalanche power play sinking Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

The Wraparound is your look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Game 5 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, including the all-important television information.

However you feel about Nazem Kadri‘s Game 4 OT goal, it ultimately counted for the Avalanche, leaving the Lightning on the brink of elimination heading into Game 5 on Friday.

• Coaches continue to lock down jobs around the NHL. Adam Gretz wonders if Peter DeBoer can lead the Stars to a quick turnaround. After turning the Oilers’ 2021-22 season around quickly, Jay Woodcroft received a contract extension. Will the Panthers look shrewd after the surprising decision to hire Paul Maurice as head coach?

Heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, my feeling was that the Lightning would benefit more than the Avalanche if officials decided to stop calling penalties.

Generally, that feeling was more about style of play and tempo than actual power play execution. After all, as much firepower as the Avalanche boast, the Lightning have put together some lethal power play units over the years.

Heading into the Cup Final, that group was humming at a productive 22.6% success rate. With every goal precious (especially as the Bolts slowed the Eastern Conference Final to a halt), the chemistry of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos proved potent.

In the grand scheme of things, it was reasonable to expect the Avalanche and Lightning to draw close to even on the power play. However, through four games of the Cup Final, the Avs have generated a daunting advantage.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Through four games, the Avalanche scored six power-play goals on 13 opportunities, translating to a whopping 46.2% success rate. The Lightning received 14 power-play opportunities so far, and have only scored one PPG. Worse yet, Tampa Bay also gave up a shorthanded goal, so Colorado’s penalty kill fought them to a “draw.”

So, that’s a six-goal swing for the Avalanche, negating the Lightning managing a 10-9 advantage in even-strength goals.

Heading into Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET), the Lightning may beg for a reversal of fate, although they might want to be specific against the Avalanche.

Fascinatingly, the Avalanche are probably playing a bit over their heads on the power play, yet the Lightning might be getting a few bounces at even-strength.

So, be careful what you wish for when it comes to demanding a change of luck. But it really is reasonable to say that the difference at 5-on-4 has been extreme.

[Related: Avs defying the odds with playoff goaltending]

When you work backwards from results, you’d think that the Avalanche power play was tremendous, and the Lightning’s group has been terrible. The former’s true, but the latter shows the folly of looking at small sample sizes.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche generated 14 high-danger chances over their 17:19 power play TOI in this series in 5-on-4 situations. Three goals came from high-danger chances, five were scored at 5-on-4, and the Avalanche also converted on a 5-on-3.

As troubling as those numbers are, the Lightning have been more dangerous than their results would indicate. Natural Stat Trick puts the Lightning at 3.45 expected goals in those 5-on-4 power play situations so far during the Cup Final.  Per minute, the Avalanche are still creating chances at a terrifying rate, but over a long haul, those numbers would even out.

Of course, the Lightning can only live and die by small sample sizes against the Avalanche in the Cup Final. As much as they’d like to find answers, time is running out.

Maybe they’re better off hoping that officials continue to “let them play?”

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 3-1)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – Avalanche 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* – if necessary

The Wraparound: Kuemper or Francouz for Avalanche in Game 4?

The Wraparound is your look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Game 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, including the all-important television information.

After a 7-0 blowout loss in Game 2, the Lightning returned the favor, clobbering the Avalanche 6-2. Can Tampa Bay even up the series, or will the Avalanche bounce back and put the repeat champions on the brink?

• Aside from GM of the Year, the league handed out the remaining 2022 NHL Awards on Tuesday. Auston Matthews locked down the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay to complete quite the season, Igor Shesterkin won the Vezina, Cale Makar notched the Norris, and Moritz Seider captured the Calder.

• Coaches continue to lock down jobs around the NHL. Adam Gretz wonders if Peter DeBoer can lead the Stars to a quick turnaround. After turning the Oilers’ 2021-22 season around quickly, Jay Woodcroft received a contract extension.

In an ideal world, every contending team would be able to identify a rock-solid goalie they can count on during the playoffs.

In the real world … well, there aren’t a lot of goalies as reliable as Andrei Vasilevskiy. Many are most impressed by Vasilevskiy’s occasionally acrobatic saves, or the way he performs after a loss. For me, it’s just how often he’s reliable, and frequently elite. Vasilevskiy’s doubled any other goalie’s workload the past three postseasons (68 playoff games; Semyon Varlamov‘s second at 34) while being a regular season workhorse (157 regular season games since 2019-20, second only to Connor Hellebuyck‘s 169).

Truly, Vasilevskiy presents the Lightning with a rare (if not literally unique) luxury of reliably elite playoff goaltending.

The Avalanche do not enjoy that luxury.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Now, let’s make this clear: the Avalanche haven’t been outright fools when it comes to goaltending. To an extent, they should be applauded for pragmatism. While other teams burn salary cap space reaching for elite goaltending (looking at you, Florida Panthers), the Avalanche aren’t forcing it.

For the most part, that’s worked out for them — even with some bad injury luck. Yet, as Game 4 approaches on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET), they must ponder a choice between Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz.

For whatever it’s worth, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar didn’t reveal if he’s starting Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz against the Lightning in Game 4.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it at least feels like there really isn’t a “good choice.” Instead, the vibes lean closer to picking your poison.

Let’s sort through the venom, then. Pavel Francouz vs. Darcy Kuemper: who should be the Avalanche starter for Game 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final?

Pros and cons of starting Darcy Kuemper for Game 4

Here’s a take: the Avalanche made a reasonable bet in trading for Kuemper during the offseason.

Personally, I’d rather give up the equivalent of a trade deadline rental for a productive goalie instead of handing term to, say, Philipp Grubauer. In the grand scheme of things, it was the right move.

And, to an extent, it worked out. During the regular season, Kuemper generated 25.12 Goals Saved Above Average, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Really, Kuemper probably deserves more love as a legitimate(-looking?) starting goalie. His career regular-season save percentage is a strong .918, and his 2021-22 season number was even better at .921.

Contrarians will chalk that up to the team in front of him, yet Kuemper also generated some of his career-best dragging the lowly Coyotes to semi-credibility.

[Related: Avs defying the odds with playoff goaltending]

If the Lightning turn Game 4 (and more) into low-event hockey, there’s logic to the Avalanche hoping that Darcy Kuemper can just … somehow regain his previous form. After all, if the pace is slow and grinding, wouldn’t you prefer the 6-foot-5 goalie who checks many traditional boxes?

Unfortunately, Kuemper hasn’t looked so sharp for much of these playoffs. Look at his series-by-series numbers, and it’s clear this isn’t just a blip vs. the Bolts.

None of this is meant to condemn Kuemper, especially big-picture-wise. After all, it seems like his drop-off coincided with a scary eye injury. That doesn’t mean he’s struggling because of the injury. It may also boil down to getting knocked out of his rhythm.

But, either way, Kuemper looks vulnerable.

Francouz presents more of the unknown … maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

Importantly, note that the Avalanche haven’t received great goaltending during the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, even when they’ve beaten the Lightning.

Whether it’s Francouz or Kuemper, it sure feels like the best route to victory is just to make goaltending as irrelevant as possible.

But if they need some saves, Francouz’s gathering a consensus.

So far, both Francouz and Kuemper experienced ups and downs during the playoffs. In 13 playoff appearances this season, Kuemper’s managed a save percentage of .896. Francouz, meanwhile, generated a more palatable .896 mark in seven games (four of which were starts, six ended up being wins).

Broadly, each goalie has looked shaky at times. Yet Francouz instills at least a modicum of greater confidence.

Normally, I’d roll my eyes at a coach playing coy about announcing their starting goalie. No doubt, Bednar not revealing Francouz or Kuemper for Game 4 does inspire some of that feeling.

Yet, this is a case where such “gamesmanship” makes extra sense.

In a league where goalies are increasingly cookie cutter, Kuemper – Francouz are about as different as you can get.

  • Kuemper is the prototype, size-wise, listed at 6-foot-5. Francouz must rely more on athleticism, as he’s listed at 6-feet-tall. (Note: this doesn’t mean Kuemper lacks any athleticism, mind you.)
  • Kuemper’s also typical in catching with his left hand. Unlike the vast majority of contemporary NHL goalies, Pavel Francouz catches with his right hand.

Both goalies have posted sneaky-solid stats, at least when they’ve been able to play.

Injuries forced Francouz to miss all of the 2020-21 season. Overall, the 32-year-old’s only played in 57 NHL regular season games, yet he’s produced when healthy enough to play. Francouz sports an impressive .921 career save percentage, collecting almost 20 GSAA over those 57 games.

While it’s not the same as blanking NHL shooters, Francouz also put up sparkling overseas stats, including in the KHL.

[More on Nichushkin taking a star turn during playoffs, Cup Final]

So … the Avalanche set themselves up with relatively strong options in Francouz and Kuemper. At least to the degree that, by not risking too many resources on goaltending, they could focus on building to other strengths.

More often than not, the Avs could likely bring a goalie match closer to a “tie” than many might realize.

Again, though, the 2022 Stanley Cup Final may continue to intensify the mismatch between Andrei Vasilevskiy against Kuemper and/or Francouz.

Personally, I’d lean toward Francouz, even if it merely gives a different look. Colorado’s most important task is to shift the focus off goalies (or at least their goalies) entirely. Tampa Bay might not give them that option, though.

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 2-1)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* – if necessary

The Wraparound: Could Stanley Cup Final shift to Tampa Bay save Lightning?

The Wraparound is your look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Game 3 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, including the all-important television information.

• Can the Lightning recover from a stunning 7-0 Game 2 blowout, or will the Avalanche push them to the brink of elimination?

• John Tortorella was officially hired as the next head coach of the Flyers on Friday

Heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, it was no secret that the Avalanche possessed more team speed than the Lightning. Instead, the assumption was that the wily veterans would find ways to slow the young upstarts down.

That, uh, hasn’t happened so far.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Understandably, the Lightning basically treat their Game 2 debacle as a “burn the tape”-type experience. Throw a few “man up” comments out there. Deflect questions about leaving Andrei Vasilevskiy out there to absorb a seven-goal shellacking.

Starting with Game 3 Monday night (8 p.m. ET), a change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered. To an extent maybe even literally.

Really, though, do the Lightning have a chance to get back in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final against the Avalanche? Let’s consider a few reasons why the series shifting to Tampa Bay could make a difference.

First, there are the typical differences in home ice

At times, home-ice advantage can be exaggerated in the NHL. Yet, the Lightning have already leveraged that edge during their push for a Stanley Cup three-peat. Look no further than how aggressively Jon Cooper chased matchups involving Anthony Cirelli. With the luxury of the last change, top forwards couldn’t escape a player who’s been making a Selke-level defensive impact.

It’s quite possible that, with a clean slate, the last change could matter.

Of course, there’s only so much Cirelli, Vasilevskiy, or any single player can do when the Avs are creating such a locomotive pace.

That’s where things could be interesting.

With Games 3 and 4 in Tampa Bay, the Avalanche won’t enjoy the same feverish home crowd to feed off of. This is anecdotal, but there’s often the feeling of a snowball effect (Avalanche pun partially intended) for a road team. Give up a goal and then another, and a contest can get away from you fast when everyone’s screaming and/or singing pop punk at your demise.

Getting away from mile-high elevation could be godsend for Lightning against Avalanche

From a “sports science” standpoint, the most interesting — if almost intangible — factor might be what makes the Avalanche’s home-ice advantage unique (or at least unusual) in the NHL. That’s the “mile-high” elevation.

Long story short, athletes not used to mile-high altitude can tire/get winded faster. From the NBA’s Nuggets to the these Avalanche, it really only makes sense to err toward a high-tempo style. Yet, instead of merely leaning in that direction, the Avs dove in head-first.

Frighteningly, the Avalanche aren’t just challenging the Lightning with pure skating speed. Just about every facet of their game keeps the puck moving. Their defensemen brilliantly move the puck up the ice. Most of the time, that means quick and efficient breakout passing. If those opportunities aren’t there — or a Cale Makar merely sees a chance to go coast to coast — then they have the ability to skate the puck up themselves.

[Related: Avs defying the odds with playoff goaltending]

As strong as the Avalanche were on the road this season (24-14-3), the Avalanche were incredible at home, posting a 32-5-4 record.

Considering many of the key players on each side by age, and a faster pace once again favors Colorado.

  • Nathan MacKinnon is a barrel of energy at 26. The rest of the NHL must come to grips with Cale Makar merely being 23. Valeri Nichushkin, 27, has been a menace in just about every section of the ice. Andre Burakovsky, 27, has been dynamic (though he may be injured). Even seemingly slowed, 26-year-old Mikko Rantanen is another physical force. 21-year-old defenseman Bowen Byram is coming into his own, while Devon Toews (28) is as smooth as they come.

[More on Nichushkin taking a star turn during playoffs, Cup Final]

Of course, it’s not just age that factors into fresher legs vs. a drive to slow the pace. The Lightning have just played a stunning amount of hockey the past three years. Tampa Bay’s played a whopping 67 playoff games the past three seasons, while the Avalanche are tied for a distant second with 41 playoff GP.

During this run alone, the Lightning have played three more games than the Avalanche. The Avs also enjoyed that cushy rest between previous rounds, arguably worthy of the dreaded rust.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not shocking that an already-fast Lightning team looked that much quicker than the Lightning in Colorado. That also might have exacerbated issues for Andrei Vasilveskiy.

Life could end up at least a bit easier for Vasilevskiy …

While it’s resounding how much Vasilevskiy’s accomplished at a mere age 27, even a younger goalie can wobble when you put too much on their shoulders. (Fatigue’s something he owned up to, at least earlier in his run as a No. 1.)

Could mile-high elevation have made already-challenging matters worse for Vasilevskiy early on? It’s possible. It was noted how tired Vasilevskiy looked after Artturi Lehkonen scored a PPG in Game 1:

In contemplating the rush goals and opportunities the Avalanche generated in Game 2 especially, maybe a return home can tip the scales just enough for Vasilevskiy and their structure to rebound? Maybe they can trap/slow down Colorado more effectively when they’re not gasping for air.

Among other things, the Bolts may also be able to churn out some of Jon Cooper’s fabled “adjustments.” Either way, the Lightning clearly need a lot to change if they hope to have a fighting chance in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 2-0)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – June 20: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)