With the first seed on the line, the seemingly two best teams in the West will soon dual it out for the chance to be king of the mountain, at least for the time being. The Avs and Knights have navigated the uncharted round-robin waters with ease, setting up for what will be one hell of a battle.
What’s Been Jiving For The Avs?
The Avs come in with just ONE goal allowed in two rounds of round-robin play. Not only has the defense and goaltending found it’s feet after the lay-off, but the forwards also are up and flying. I’ve really liked the way the second line has performed. In the last two contests, Landeskog, Nichushkin and Kadri have displayed fantastic control over all 200 feet of ice. They’ve been hard on the forecheck, hounds in the neutral zone and been recovering pucks like it’s nobody’s business. Against the Stars, they really went to work on the Pavelski-Radulov-Janmark line.
Those three were rendered useless by the constant pressure and puck usage by the second line. In just over 12 minutes of five-on-five play, the Avs trio (for the most part) held Pavelski and his mates to a paltry one shot on goal to a whopping eight against, four of which were high-danger chances. That’s 11.1 percent of the shots-on-goal share when the Stars second line was deployed. That is brutally bad. In contrast, Landy and co. held a 70 percent share, winning the count seven to three.
Bednar has had this line in mind all along. Blending arguably his three best 200-foot players together to make sweet music and whoop ass. It’s been a great asset so far. Pretty much inevitable that with the squad depth, Bednar’s blending of line combinations wouldn’t be too far away from showing it’s head, but….
I think Bednar has become a better judge of what will and won’t work as the season has gone on. It’s no longer “The blender of panic,” rather the “blender of doing things better.” I just sense there is more level of trust in the current playing group. More skill to be shared around. Making what was once a head scratching decision now one of positivity, bred from within Jared’s loins.
Landy & Co. Face The Biggest Test (So Far)
Perhaps the most under-the-radar performance of any series this post-season has been the way ‘Wild Bill’ William Karlsson’s line has been dominating possession. In two victories so far, the Vegas forward and his comrades have driven his team to victory by way of 200-foot compete.
Whilst Vegas’ defense and goaltending has been a bit suspicious, there is no doubt that Karlsson is feeling it. We’re talking 2017-18 vintage here guys. Twenty three minutes at five-on-five so far and whether it’s Stone and Stephenson or his old buds in Marchessault or Smith, Vegas’ top line have been busy; busy shooting and shutting ya down.
As you can see above, in a no-nonsense yet honest sheet, the Vegas top line is buzzing. What’s dangerous about all of this is, they haven’t even inflicted mass scoreboard damage. They are simply going head-to-head with the best lines in hockey and winning all the battles. Oh and the Stastny line isn’t far behind. They’ve been stellar.
It’ll be fun to see Mack and Karlsson go to head but if I’m holding the clipboard, throwing 92-91-13 on ANY time I see that Karlsson flow jump over the boards to me makes sense. Why?
Show the league you can go out and negate what may be one of the best lines in hockey right now. Shut them down and be as devastating as you can be the other way.
As good as the Stastny line has been, they don’t quite play with the same gumption and ferocity that Karlsson and Mark Stone do. Stone is one of if not the best two-way winger in the league, playing off of Karlsson he’s just flat out deadly. Keep the puck away from them; body them up when you can. That is best suited for the captain and his mates. If you get the chance, let Nate run wild on Stastny. That line boasts good players, don’t get me wrong, but they haven’t the speed or drive Mack and Mikko do.
The Avs are the home team (feels weird saying that) so they should dictate terms early, get the matchups that will succeed.
My two keys to victory are:
1. Hold the Karlsson line to at least a 50-50 shot share. They’ve been brilliant without major scoreboard success in two games, don’t be the ones to let that happen.
2. Vegas doesn’t generate a ton of transition from defense, 20th percentile relative to the league. They rely heavily on forwards doing the bulk of the work. Backcheck and forecheck like crazy, don’t let them get first usage. The Vegas defence read and react as to where the space will be during breakouts, if you can slow those exits and entries down and get the defense flat-footed, they aren’t that effective in transition whatsoever.
I expect to see a heavy checking game and alot of fast breakout play. Stylistically i feel this is the best way to both negate strengths and expose weaknesses of the Knights’ best lines and defense.