The Avs got a bit of a surprise Friday morning when they were informed that they would be opening round 2 vs Dallas in less than 36 hours. Plenty went wrong during the game but with a fair amount of hindsight it’s easy to attribute some of that to lack of preparation. They did not look ready to play when the puck dropped and were forced into catching up all night. Obviously they never did.
All the regulars were involved in practice Friday except Val Nichushkin, who was dealing with some ‘bumps and bruises’ along with a fairly bland showing against Arizona. At game time, Matt Calvert was deemed unfit to play and Vlad Namestnikov re-entered the lineup after missing the last 3 games due to friendly fire from Mack. Aside from that lines and pairs continued from the AZ series.
Landy – Mack – Mikko
Burky – Kadri – Donny
Nuke – Compher – Jost
Nieto – PEB – Namestnikov
Graves – Makar
Sam – Cole
Big Z – EJ
Scratch: The Black Aces
During the game we lost EJ midway through the 1st period after taking a shot in the foot and getting low-bridged. He returned for P2 but didn’t play in the third, perhaps thanks to a predatory hit on his leg by Jamie Benn, although he was on the bench for moral support.
Three minutes into the 2nd period Philipp Grubauer came up lame and left the ice unable to put weight on his left leg. He did not return and isn’t expected to in the near future. This could be tough in the long term because it seems like yet another aggravation of the injury that kept him out for two long stretches of the regular season. With a short off-season there’s little time to take care of something chronic.
Colorado began the game alternating good shifts and bad shifts for a while then trading goals. A questionable penalty call gave the Stars a PP then a really bad shift by the Avs in their own zone where EJ was injured then old friend Blake Comeau scored to put Dallas up for good. I liked the push back after and things seemed fine until yet another defensive breakdown and soft goal against made it 3-1. The rest of the evening was basically trash. Two spans that deserve attention are in the 2nd after Landy scored, where Dallas immediately went on a 12-0 shot run, and in the 3rd after the Stars made it 5-3 and the Avs totally caved in behind only 2 with 11 minutes to play. Take out those two horrible stretches and the Avs won the shot board 45-24 on the night.
Tale of the tape was +45/-46 in shot attempts at 5v5 and the Avs outshot their foes 31-30 overall. Shot pace was a respectable 112 per hour. The Stars won the quality battle easily with 11 high-danger chances to just 5 for the Avs and a 1.87 to 1.52 expected goal margin. Colorado struggling to develop HD chances is nothing new but letting up a ton is new.
Special teams weren’t a factor with the PP getting one chance that they did little with and the PK killing off both they had.
Top 6 forwards at 5v5 were Mack, Mikko and Landy then a gap down to Kadri and Burky and another down to Donskoi. Overall it was Mack (24:10), Mikko, Landy, Kadri then Burky, Compher and Donskoi all within a second of each other. Nieto was low man at 5v5 at just over 7 minutes and Nuke overall at 8:40 total in all situations.
The defensive regime was Sam & Makar at just over 21 minutes each 5v5 followed by Graves, Cole, Z and EJ. Overall it was Makar (27+), Sam (23), Cole (19+), Graves (19+), Big Z (15+) and EJ racking up only 10:39 with the injury.
Mack had 2 goals and an assist and now stands 4th all-time in PPG scoring rate in NHL playoff history. That’s impressive. Gabe had 1&1 and Sam had 2 assists for the only points from the defensemen.
Time for the unpleasant section of today’s article. Coach Bednar remarked after the game that half the team didn’t show up to play, specifically singling out ‘most’ of the middle 6 wingers (later mentioned bottom 6 as not being great) and the entire defensive corps. He was pissed. I think basically anyone besides MacKinnon, Landeskog and Francouz need to accept blame for a terrible outing. That includes the coaching staff.
Yes, the defensive play in front of him was pretty vile but Grubi was not good. I’ll defer to the experts but by my eyes the third Stars goal was bad and probably the second as well. He saved 6 of 9 shots overall at 5v5 and only 1 of 3 high-danger chances. His night went south long before the injury. Granted it’s a large adjustment coming from a series where he saw a shot on goal oh about once every 10 minutes it seemed but he just didn’t seem ready for regular NHL quality/quantity at the outset. Should he have been pulled for Frank after the 1st? It’s a great piece of whatiffery. Maybe the Avs get it in gear because of it and go on to a different result. It’s also easy to say they wouldn’t have to deal with losing one of their goalies to injury if he never goes out for P2. It would have been an extremely tough decision for the staff so I don’t blame them for sticking with him at all.
I’ve admired JB’s ability to craft and install a solid gameplan for a playoff series going back to Nashville in 2018. There really wasn’t time for that (at least I don’t think so, maybe he never sleeps…) with only a handful of hours and one practice. The team really didn’t look prepared properly and yes that’s on the staff but it’s more on the schedule. I do think that’s something that will improve by Monday and much more as the series progresses. It was also apparent how differently Dallas plays compared to Arizona. It’s a huge change and not an easy adjustment for anyone. The double Bra7i1 was fun to watch but probably like prepping for a marathon by eating ice cream and sitting on the couch.
Putting Mack, Mikko and Gabe together is a great idea except for the 40 minutes a night they aren’t on the ice together. I pound the table constantly about this and will continue to do so. A top-heavy lineup makes the Avs as a whole much easier to defend against. Blaming your 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines for not clearing the bar they set is hilariously awful. Centralizing your talent makes everyone else in the lineup worse and the numbers are right there proving it. It worked against Arizona (and Calgary for that matter) because they suck. It didn’t against San Jose and it might not against Dallas this year either. It’s really not going to work if they manage to move on against Vegas presumably.
Moving forward we have a few question marks on the personnel side. The goalie issue is easy, Frank is the starter and Michael Hutchinson the backup until Grubi can go. We’ve seen other teams bring goalies into the bubble when tragedy strikes so perhaps Adam Werner has started the protocol whatever it is. Matt Calvert’s absence requires no action since they’ve used 13 forwards to this point. If EJ is unfit the next man up seems to be Kevin Connauton. This will require some shuffling since EJ is a top penalty killer plus I doubt the staff want to roll a Connauton/Z pairing regularly.
I’m not worried about Francouz taking over for the time being. He had to do it for half the regular season and compiled a better record than Grubauer to boot. It might take him another game to get fully rolling again and the Avs don’t really have that luxury so coming back with a strong team game on Monday is key.
Burgundy Narrative Metric
– “Best guys being your best guys” gets a (+) two guys isn’t enough
– Quality vs Quantity gets a (-) not nearly enough of either
– Power Play Watchability gets a (-) only one and it wasn’t great
– The Dreaded Turtle gets a (+) still no turtles post-season play
– Starting Goalie Battle% gets a (+) I guess it’s over?
– Referee Oppression Index gets a (+) wow, so they just flat out stopped calling penalties. all 3 calls were weak too. Pavelski ran into Graves stick on purpose and I have no idea what they were looking at on Kadri’s.
Game 2 on Monday at 9:45pm East
Thanks as always to the NHL and Natural Stat Trick for numbers and visuals