The series is officially a series, as the Vegas Golden Knights give the Colorado Avalanche their first reality check of the playoffs. This was bound to be a tough matchup for both teams, as they were the two best teams in the regular season. After a thrilling late-game burst by the Golden Knights in Game 3, when they scored two late goals to win 3-2, Vegas came out big late again. This handed the Avs their second consecutive loss and second loss of this year’s playoffs. Here are the takeaways from their Game 4 5-1 loss.
Pipe Magic Not in the Avalanche’s Favor
The Avs certainly had some good looks in the game, particularly in the first period when they managed nine shots on goal and took an early 1-0 lead. The Avs struggled to get the puck into the Vegas zone in the second and third periods, managing just nine shots on goal in those two periods. However, they did get some good looks on some of their shots on goal including, two in the third period that were just off the posts.
While the misses off the post were only a small factor in the Avs’ lack of offensive production in the game, they really could have used some lucky bounces to turn the momentum of the game and the series. The Stanley Cup Playoff contests are games of inches. The team could be just inches away from changing the outlook of the series.
Top Line Is Struggling to Score
The Avs fearsome top-line trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog has been held to just one goal in regulation in the last three games since dominating Game 1. While the Avs have had reliable depth all season, it has truly been the top line that has been big for them in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Vegas’s top line has suddenly started winning many of the matchups. With home-ice advantage, the Golden Knights had the ability to pick the line matchups, plotting the Avs top line against theirs. The bigger problem, however, was that the team had to face a dual-threat of lines.
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“They had their four lines playing well,” said Avs head coach Jared Bednar on the Vegas lines according to NHL.com. “There’s people saying well you gotta get them away from the Stone, Stephenson, and Pacioretty line, but then they got the Karlsson line that’s doing equally as good a job and still producing at the other end.”
This second line put on a show in Game 4. Winger Jonathan Marchessault had a hat trick and Karlsson had three assists on the night. What will it take for the Avs top line to come back and get more shots on goal? It will start with their defense penetrating the Vegas zone to create opportunities. However, it won’t be easy as Vegas has been winning many neutral zone battles in the past couple of games. The Avs defense has been known to step up when needed to turn the team around, which they will need to do in Game 5 on Tuesday.
Avs Need to Avoid Penalties, Improve in 5-on-5 Play
The Avs racking up a total of 10 penalty minutes versus Vegas’ six certainly did not help the Avs case for scoring opportunities. But a big problem this series is that the team is getting outplayed in 5-on-5 matchups. Since the first period of Game 2, the Avs have been outshot 110-52. It was just gonna be a matter of time before the Avs saw the true Golden Knights form and since Game 2, Vegas has dictated the games’ tempo. To help keep up with their pace on the ice, the team will need their depth to come into play. Vegas’ success in Game 4 was a key example of this.
The good news is there has already been a sign of their depth showing a glimmer of hope. Veteran Brandon Saad has been a productive scorer in the series. He scored both as a member of the second and third lines. Other depth players like Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin and Carl Soderberg have all made their good share of contributions on the ice throughout the playoffs and can be counted on moving forward.
The Avs could not be happier to be heading back to the Ball Arena crowd for Game 5, as they will look to turn things around. This game will be the turning point of the series. Starting with their top line down, these next games will be the true test of their dominance and high expectations that have opened the eyes of the hockey world all season.
Ben Rossi covers the Colorado Avalanche for THW. He can also be found writing and co-hosting the Exit Velo Podcast for the website BackSportsPage. For BackSportsPage he covers hockey, the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball news, and other sports stories that stretch beyond the playing field. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Denver where he covered the Denver Pioneers college hockey program as an undergraduate staff writer for the DU Clarion.