Evidently, wearing out your opponents is a tall order when you can’t even catch them.
In Game 1 of the second-round series between the high-octane Colorado Avalanche and the forecheck-heavy Vegas Golden Knights, Jared Bednar’s troops laid a 7-1 beatdown on Peter DeBoer’s. Despite identical regular season point totals, the Honda West Division rivals didn’t look as if they belonged in the same league on Sunday night, as Colorado skated circles around Vegas on the way to a 5-1 lead by the end of the second period.
The Avs’ firepower is something to behold, but their calling card is blistering speed—more specifically, their ability to transition from defense to offense on a dime.
Whenever Colorado regained possession and enjoyed the slightest bit of space, it immediately entered attack mode and sliced through Vegas’ neutral zone posture like a hot knife through butter. The barrage was consistent, suffocating, explosive, and there was little the Golden Knights could do stem the tide:
Granted, DeBoer also threw his club for a loop by giving Robin Lehner his first start in nearly three weeks even though Marc-Andre Fleury (1.71 GAA, 93.1 SV%) had propelled the Golden Knights past the Minnesota Wild and represented the biggest reason why Vegas might have any semblance of an edge in this series.
It’s a stretch, however, to suggest he would’ve made a difference in Game 1. Colorado positively steamrolled its opposition right from the drop of the puck.
The opening goal was a perfect example of the Avs’ dynamic transition game:
Beginning in the defensive zone, the Avs make two simple passes up the wall to create a 3-on-2 opportunity. Mikko Rantanen can’t quite connect with Gabriel Landeskog, which then leads to an odd-man rush for Vegas. Budding superstar Cale Makar nips that threat in the bud with an aggressive gap, continuing this parade of sprints until Rantanen roofs a backhander past Lehner.
Colorado is flat out better at this than Vegas. It will trade rushes with the opposition all night long because it can manufacture chances more frequently and efficiently than any team in the league.
It doesn’t merely boil down to icing the fastest skaters. The Avs play fast. It’s their identity. When they face tight coverage in the neutral zone, they place the puck in locations where their breakneck pace can wreak havoc. When they’re tendered room, they storm up the ice as a fearsome unit that bullies you into conceding the blue line.
If they aren’t blowing past you, they’re planting you on your heels for shifts on end. Either way, you’re teetering on the brink of disaster. Colorado’s talent takes over from there and just buries you:
The club as a whole is constantly on the prowl, but there are obviously marquee names to keep tabs on.
Makar is emerging as possibly the best defenseman in the NHL. His stride is effortless, his vision is superb and he displays phenomenal poise under pressure. No blueliner generates more separation from a standstill than Makar. Then up front, there’s Nathan MacKinnon. At this point, it’s hard to argue that there’s a single more dominant big-game player around. He consistently rises to the occasion, bolting forward in search of the kill over and over again. Combined with his blinding speed, his top-tier offensive arsenal and sheer force of will make for a terrifying mark.
Let’s see how Nicolas Hague fared against MacKinnon in open space:
On the night, Colorado owned 61.5% of the expected goals with MacKinnon on the ice. Makar posted a 57.5 xGF%. Better yet, on account of their clinical finishing, they were both on for three Avs goals and none by the Golden Knights at 5-on-5. When they’re performing at that level, no one can stop the onslaught.
William Carrier demonstrated the only way to slow them down once they catch a glimpse of daylight:
They’re too fast, too slippery, too skilled. They move the puck too crisply. They fly through the neutral zone too quickly. All told, this is the scariest squad in the NHL.
If the Golden Knights have any hope of rebounding in this series, they need to turn this track meet into trench warfare.