The adage in baseball is make them hit over your head before you move back. The Colorado Avalanche adopted a similar theory in Game 1 of their Round Two playoffs series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Head coach Jared Bednar unleashed the Colorado attack, and they shrunk the gaps at the blue line from the opening puck drop.
Colorado used speed and more speed for a 7-1 beatdown of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of their Round Two series. After a performance like that, the fans in section 328 who were chanting, “We want the Cup,” can be forgiven for jumping the gun. Colorado needs 11 more wins, but those seem very possible after Sunday night.
Vegas had no room. Nowhere to turn.
And eventually, no hope.
The Avalanche forced Vegas to prove they could get behind the defensemen before backing the defensemen off the blue line. The gaps were small, to the point that they were non-existent. As Vegas tried to enter the offensive zone, an Avs defender or forward was only inches away.
In the words of The 300, “give them nothing.”
The aggressive, forward-leaning coverage not only stymied Vegas but spurred the Avs transition game. Vegas must have felt whiplash as Colorado deflected, intercepted, and otherwise took the puck and transitioned to offense.
Pick a goal. Any goal. Most of them came from transition–a good play in the defensive zone and hard break forward. Vegas didn’t have an answer for the weak side trailers on the transition rush, and the Avalanche popped three early goals while four Vegas defenders faced the other way, but we’ll dive into the Avs weakside trailers another time.
This breakdown is about the Avalanche playing in Vegas’ face.
The seven-goal outburst originated from the Avs defense, clean breaks out of their own zone, and numbers against the Vegas defense. Vegas couldn’t keep up.
For example, here’s the still photo, first. Even on a three-on-two, Devon Toews played within a stick length of the Vegas rush. That’s playing TIGHT to the puck (blame the NHL for the blurry video still).
So, watch the microscopic gap. Watch Toews take away the passing lane, and then the Avalanche speed explosion as Toews leads the rush, and Rantanen blows past Nicolas Roy on the other end.
The Avs speed advantage was not only present but oppressive. Vegas managed just 25 shots and only 18 shots at even strength. In short, the Avalanche were on their skates, and Vegas was left behind.
For another example, poor Vegas dumped the puck and could only watch the lightning breakout. A couple of touch passes around the wall and hit Nathan MacKinnon with speed–two Vegas defenders were helpless.
The series is quickly shaping up to be the physicality and size of Vegas against the raw talent and speed of the Colorado Avalanche. You’d like to say the speed and skill will win out, but this is the NHL playoffs. That’s not a given.
Vegas “Message Sending”
Make ’em beat you before you give it to them. And Vegas surely wasn’t able to beat Colorado with the puck.
Vegas had their own reply, however. In the grand hockey tradition of not being able to beat a team on the ice, Vegas gooned it up, especially in the third period.
Credit officials for being on top of the message sending by Vegas, especially in the third period. But there’s no stopping Ryan Reaves when he’s within arms reach. Vegas wanted a word with Ryan Graves after a rough hit on Mattias Janmark in the first period, and the Vegas enforcer made his point.
By trying to plant Graves head deeper into the ice than a tooney. Graves laid motionless in the Colorado Avalanche crease while all hell broke loose.
Get used to it, kids. Even if the NHL surprises us all and suspends Reaves (which they should), Vegas isn’t going to adopt a choir boy mentality. Their best hope is to slow the Avalanche, and that means grinding them down. Or, if needed, a ground-and-pound approach.
For 11 more wins, saddle up. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
*Hello Avs fans–I’ll be helping Adrian Dater cover the series. I’m a 20-year hockey media type who has worked at Sportsnet, NHL Home Ice, and cover the Pittsburgh Penguins for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. Adrian has pulled out the couch and filled my room with what he called “gummy bears.”
I’m a little afraid of those, but I hope you enjoy the more technical breakdowns of the Colorado Avalanche.