LAS VEGAS – If there was any game the Vegas Golden Knights were likely to win, it was this one. A Friday night on the Strip, which was poppin’ all day, full of maskless let-out-of-their-houses-for-the-first-time-since-last-March revelers, rooting on a desperate team in need of a win. They got it, 3-2 over the Avs in a Game 3 that was not nearly as close as that score would indicate.
The Avs still have a 2-1 series lead, but this series is taking an ominous turn. Basically, the Avs have been outplayed for the last five periods by the Golden Knights, and pretty badly too. The Avs still have a series lead, but Vegas has lots of momentum building, or so it seems. The Avs were outshot 42-20 in this game. In Game 2, Vegas outshot Colorado 41-25.
For those keeping score, that’s 83-45 in the last two games.
Say what you want about Vegas coach Pete DeBoer, but he’s a very good coach who knows how to make adjustments. Since the second period of Game 2, it feels like the Avs can’t get the puck much anymore. If they do, they’re under relentless checking pressure and giving it right back. DeBoer seems to have made the right defensive adjustments that have taken away all the time and space of Avs players. The Avs dominated their opposition most of the season with puck-possession play, but right now they’re watching Vegas play with the puck all the time and leaving it all up to Philipp Grubauer, who was tremendous again – until the final minutes when Vegas got a lucky bounce on him, then Grubi finally looked human on the winning goal with 5:18 left.
It’s up to Jared Bednar now to make some adjustments, to counteract the defensive scheme DeBoer has devised. If the Avs don’t make some adjustments, this will be a tied series after Sunday night.
Bednar, by the way, was pissed at his team afterward:
“The adjustment we have to make is to outwork them,” Bednar said, before snapping at a question about why he changed up his lines in the third period (“Did you see anything happening out there?” he said in response).
“For five straight periods, they’ve been way more competitive than us. It’s as simple as that. Looking at it any other way is a waste of time,” Bednar said.
He’s right. The Avs looked like they thought they could just throw their sticks out there and Vegas might fold, down 2-0 in the series.
“We’re kidding ourselves,” Bednar said, if that’s the case.
Look, you can’t totally overreact to one bad game. The Avs had won 11 in a row, and as awful as they were in this one, it was still a 1-1 game heading to the third period and they had a 2-1 lead with 5:18 left in the game. But to me, this game never felt close. And neither did the last two periods of Game 2. The fact is, the Avs’ only really good game of the three in this series was against a tired Vegas team in Game 1, on home ice. Vegas has looked like the better – and, to Bednar, this is the cardinal sin – harder-working team since.
The Avs got a no-show performance from the top line, with Nathan MacKinnon rarely touching the puck. Bednar said Vegas’ “top guys were way better” than his team’s top guys.
The third line, centered by Tyson Jost? Well, Jost wasn’t any good, but Valeri Nichushkin was strong on the puck all night and seemed to care, at least. The only line that produced a goal was the fourth line, a rebound score by Carl Soderberg in the second.
I think the Avs need to go to more of a trap defensive system that DeBoer is using. He may have to sacrifice some of the freelancing the top skaters like to do with the puck, but the purpose of anything now is to win the game no matter how ugly. It felt like the Avs were in regular-season mode for this game, not the down-in-the-gutters mentality you need to win this time of year.
Guys such as Sam Girard need to be better too. La Tornade is a key part of the Avs’ transition game, and right now he’s not creating much time and space for himself with the puck like normal. Patrik Nemeth and Conor Timmins were scary with the puck much of the time, and not in a good way. Is it time for Bo Byram to parachute into the series? (I don’t really think so, though. He hasn’t played in a long time. I fear too much rust).
This was a game in which the absence of Nazem Kadri was keenly felt. Kadri is great on faceoffs, which the Avs aren’t winning much of right now. J.T. Compher has been invisible the last two games in his spot. Rantanen salvaged an otherwise bad night with a clutch go-ahead goal in the third. But that was about his only good play of the night.
Every team deserves a bad game now and then. Vegas had theirs in Game 1 and have been much better since. Game 3 was the Avs’ stinker.
Will they respond Sunday with a showing we’re more used to seeing? Puck drop is 6:30 mountain.