Everything seems to be breaking favourably for the National Hockey League this postseason. It won’t be hard to find a marketing headline for this year’s Western Conference Final. Best player in the world versus best team in the world? Yes, sign us all up.

The Edmonton Oilers – having worked through the first two rounds of the playoffs – are facing a new challenge in the form of the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs may have the deepest depth chart in the league, but they also have an impressive collection of superstars at the top of the lineup. It’s what differentiates them from the two teams the Oilers have dispatched so far this postseason. Connor McDavid’s line going nuclear against the top six of Los Angeles and Calgary wasn’t surprising. Against Colorado? It’s undeniably a bigger challenge.

The Avalanche won’t be mistaken for a lockdown defensive team, but that sort of defensive strategy – which was, to some degree, deployed by the Kings in Round 1 – has rarely worked against a player of McDavid’s skill set anyway. Rather, the Avalanche prefer to skate teams into the ground, with Nathan MacKinnon’s blazing speed and Cale Makar’s puck-moving wizardry coalescing to create an offensive juggernaut.

To put this in perspective, consider the scoring rates for the Oilers with McDavid and top defenceman Darnell Nurse on the ice over the past three seasons versus that of their Colorado foes. It’s true that the Oilers have seen some defensive weakness with their top group (McDavid line + Nurse pairing) on the ice over the years, but they are still comfortably ahead of their opponents (+0.7 goals per 60 minutes at even strength).

Now compare that to what Colorado has observed with MacKinnon and Makar deployed:

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Like I said, a different challenge. A fundamentally different challenge.

We know the individual and team-level measurements for Colorado across the board are impressive; such is life when you have outscored teams 741 to 554 (+187) over the past three seasons. But it’s not just because Colorado has a deeper team whose depth players can beat up on weaker teams around the league. We know this because for every 60 minutes MacKinnon and Makar play together, they are almost two goals better than their opponents. That’s nearly three times the rate of dominance from McDavid and Nurse!

So yes, Colorado is that good. But I’m interested in the head-to-head matchup too.

My thesis for picking Edmonton to win the Western Conference rests on two arguments: that neither of Edmonton’s first two opponents would have an answer for the McDavid line (this, to say the least, went according to plan), and that a materially better Colorado team would struggle with playing out of sync, in large part because their best players would be looking at a mirror in this series. In other words, having to face personnel groups who can threaten them in a way few teams around the league can. (Vegas’ elite possession game baffled the Avalanche attack just a year ago.)

Why do I think this is plausible? Part of the reason is that Colorado, despite being a fantastic team, hasn’t had much of an answer for McDavid.

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I was curious as to how that McDavid number relates to what we have seen against other opponents. If we subset this group to common opponents (predominantly Western Conference teams) for sample size purposes, we see that despite Colorado being the best team in the NHL, they were one of the weakest at slowing down Edmonton’s biggest weapon:

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Herein lies the path for Edmonton to pull off a sizable upset – and it would be a sizable upset. Despite however highly you think of the top tier of the Oilers’ lineup, and I doubt you would find more people bullish than I am on that group, the margins the Avalanche can string together over the course of a game, or a series, are sometimes hard to believe.

Colorado’s first-round series against the Nashville Predators looked like men against small children. And for all we can say about the trouble the Avalanche may have with McDavid, this doesn’t even begin to explore the utterly futile attempts we should see from Edmonton’s second and third pairings (heck, even the first) in trying to slow down Colorado.

The series should be electric. The only question left: can the big guns in Edmonton be an equalizing force against a Colorado juggernaut, or is this Avs team simply too good right now to push aside?

We start getting an answer to that question on Tuesday night.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey