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Film Room: Why The MacKinnon and Rodrigues Duo is Thriving

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MacKinnon Rodrigues

Nathan MacKinnon said he had never played consistently with a right handed shot while with the Avalanche. That could be an adjustment for some.

Not him.

MacKinnon played sparingly with Evan Rodrigues at times during the first two months of the season, but since both returned from injury a month ago, they’ve been connected at the hip.

And it looks like they’ve played together for years. The superstar MacKinnon and the 29 year old free agent signing have been a perfect fit on a line, with Artturi Lehkonen filling the other spot. Rodrigues’ ability to play with anyone has allowed the team to move Mikko Rantanen to the second line. That changes the dynamic of the team, but it would not be possible if the Toronto native didn’t understand how to play with an elite player like MacKinnon.

“A guy like Nate, you want to give him time and space,” Rodrigues told me earlier this month. “You want to clear lanes for him. When he takes a guy on one on one, he’s going to win that battle 99% of the time, so just finding open areas and letting him find me.”

In the 11 games together since being paired, Rodrigues has 10 points. MacKinnon has 18.

I took a look back at some of the film from the last month and found some clips that showcase the instant chemistry between the two, and how Rodrigues really does understand how to compliment MacKinnon.

Let’s dig in.

One-Touch

This was Rodrigues’ first game back from injury in early January. He was put on a line with MacKinnon, while Rantanen was moved to the second line. The hope was the spread the offense around a little bit.

It worked. And they haven’t had to change much since.

It’s a pretty short clip, but it showcases Rodrigues’ hockey IQ. Makar sends the puck to him, and before it even hits his stick, Rodrigues knows what he’s going to do with it. He hits MacKinnon with a quick one-touch pass and a great look. By not holding onto the puck, it didn’t give defenders time to react and cover MacKinnon. The goalie stopped it, but it’s just a peek into the way Rodrigues thinks the game.

Constant Movement

If you are going to play with MacKinnon (as well as Toews and Makar), you have to be ready to move.

When they are at their best, they’re constantly moving around the ice, making it incredibly difficult for defenders to keep up. On this shift, the Avalanche recognize a Detroit skater has lost his stick. Makar attacks him first, then Rodrigues backs up to make room for himself when he sees that’s whose covering him.

MacKinnon fires the puck to him, then the two meet again up high. A quick drop pass to MacKinnon, and just enough of a pick, gives Nate some room to hit a now wide-open Makar for a one-timer. The shot is blocked, but just a glimpse into what movement can create.

Know Where Nate Is

Before Rodrigues even gets the puck, he had an idea of what he wanted to do here.

As he enters the zone, Johnson and Newhook drive the net. About halfway down the boards, you can see Rodrigues peak over his shoulder for MacKinnon. Rather than force a pass too early, he delays a bit. Having already backed off the defenseman, this draws the back checking forward in. A quick backhand pass over that forward hits Nate in stride. The shot is blocked, but Rodrigues created that time and space for the star to get to a dangerous area.

Finding Open Space

Here, Rodrigues and Lehkonen do a good job of digging the puck out of the corner. Rodrigues gets it down low to MacKinnon, and immediately heads for the open space he talked about.

He backs away from defenders and finds room. Most importantly, he’s ready and in a shooting position. He doesn’t get much on the shot, but it’s more about recognizing where to go when MacKinnon gets the puck. The way the line is built, Lehkonen will go to the dirty areas, but the other linemate needs to have some skill and the ability to find dead zones in the defense. Rodrigues has shown he can do that.

The Deception

Jared Bednar has mentioned multiple times that one of the things he loves about Rodrigues’ game is the deception. He gives opposing players the idea he’s going one way, and then goes a different direction.

The deception here leads to a MacKinnon goal. When the puck comes down low to Rodrigues, he fakes like he’s looking to hit someone higher up in the zone, then changes the angle of his stick at the last second to hit a streaking MacKinnon for an easy goal. Little stick movements like that throw off defenders and goaltenders. It’s a perfect pass, just beyond the stick of Dylan Larkin and right where MacKinnon can one-time it home.

Don’t Settle For the Dump-In

This is the very end of a Rodrigues shift, and you can tell he’s gassed. It would have been easy to dump the puck in and live to fight another day. Instead, he takes an extra second when he gets the puck, and slides it through the defender to MacKinnon.

From there, MacKinnon works his magic. He draws two defenders to him, and slides it behind his back to a streaking Toews. Toews hits the crossbar, but this chance only happens because Rodrigues didn’t panic when he got the puck on the wall. Even at the NHL level, you have a little more time than you think, and taking that extra second created a good scoring chance. The Avalanche are built off controlled zone entries, and Rodrigues has replaced a lot of what they lost with Burakovsky in that aspect of the game.

Looking For Each Other

There isn’t much that comes from this play. Maybe part of it has to do with the score, but this clip highlights how much these two are looking for each other right now.

Rodrigues does a great job along the wall shielding the defender from the puck. This is an example of him clearing lanes for the superstar. It allows him to hit MacKinnon in stride to exit the zone, and outside of McDavid, there’s no one better at backing off defenders entering the zone. MacKinnon peels off, and hits the cruising Rodrigues immediately. With nothing there, he goes around the net and moves it back to MacKinnon.

If the score hadn’t been 5-0, there may have been more attacking, but you can see the chemistry on display between the two and how well they’re working off each other.

Full Shift

To finish this film room off, I wanted to showcase a full shift from this duo. I would recommend keeping an eye on Rodrigues. When MacKinnon or even Makar get the puck, he doesn’t stop moving. Instead, he’s looking for open space. The few times MacKinnon gets the puck along the boards, you can see Rodrigues trying to move to the dead zones in the defense again.

And when Rodrigues has the puck, MacKinnon is doing the same. The constant movement I mentioned earlier leads to confusion for defending teams, which leads to coverage mistakes. At the end of a long shift, the Blackhawks turn the puck over because everyone is exhausted and can’t move. MacKinnon gets the puck, and Rodrigues cuts to open space. MacKinnon opts for the shot, and the rebound goes right to Rodrigues for the easy goal.

Rodrigues only signed a one year contract in Colorado. With each passing day, re-signing him looks to be a necessity. MacKinnon has clicked with new players in the past (Lehkonen is one), but seeing that instant connection with Rodrigues has felt different. He has the speed, skill, and IQ to not just play, but excel next to the star.

Watching that connection the rest of the season will be fun, and hopefully they can find a way to extend it beyond just this year.

Colorado's premier coverage of the Avalanche from professional hockey people. Adrian Dater, Editor-in-Chief. Part of the National Hockey Now family.

This site is in no way associated with the Colorado Avalanche or the NHL. Copyright © 2019 National Hockey Now and Adrian Dater.

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