Breaking Down: Avs/Stars – Luck, Strategy and Who Knows What Else

The Avs roll into this afternoon’s game down 2-1 in the series and in another must win situation. Game One they were unprepared to play Dallas after the double Brazil to clinch round 1. Game Two was solid play and a heap of magic bullshit going the Stars way. Last Wednesday saw a bit of regression at times but ultimately the win the Avs desperately needed.

What we haven’t seen yet is Colorado dictating the style of play. Dallas is forcing them to deal with their strategy and while the Avs have been successful for a period or half-period here and there, they haven’t been able to control the game for long enough to get a solid win. With 4 days between games it’s time for the coaching staff to implement a plan where the Avs can use their strengths and put the Stars on their heels for a change

So what would that look like and why hasn’t it happened yet? During the regular season and for that matter the post-season up until this series the Avs were perhaps the toughest team to play against in the neutral zone, both offensively and defensively. This is extremely important because it limits the time they spend in their own zone, which can be an inconsistent area for them. It also is the genesis of a fair share of their offense. I’m sure the last thing Rick Bowness wants to see is any kind of transition game entering the Stars zone so it’s key for them to put up a wall. It’s working. The Avs are generating very little quality because Dallas has time to set up and clog the slot thanks to their zone entry defense. Add to this the Stars forecheck is giving the Avs fits and it’s clear how there’s been a large gap in scoring and quality chances.

What the Stars don’t have is a Nathan MacKinnon. Mack comes into the day leading the league in assists (13) and points (20). Colorado has 3 of the top 10 scorers and 5 of the top 20. What is interesting is how the Stars have limited the effects of his production without really limiting the production itself.

At 5v5 Coach Bowness has used Blake Comeau and the Stars main checking line against the Three-Headed Monster and honestly it’s done a great job neutralizing them. Comeau has been out for 45% of Mack’s shifts and while shot share highly favors the Avs trio, goals are only 2 for and 1 against and all 3 of those happened in Game 3. Occasionally (around 7 minutes or so) the Stars use Jamie Benn’s line as a change-up vs the 3HM and they’ve been quite effective. Shot and quality share Mack against Benn favors the Avs once again but the Stars have scored 3 goals while the Avs zero. Now some of that is part of the magic bullshit in Game 2 but it is what it is. So whether it’s the Stars checking line or the top line, they’re coming away with the goals regardless of how shots or possession fall. The flipside of this is when Mack is out vs the Stars other two lines we’ve seen success so that’s something to focus on.

That’s sort of a micro issue and the 3HM is scoring anyway, the macro lies in Dallas being able to limit quality chances across the lineup. A lot that has come in the form of blocked shots. The Avs have attempted 138 shots at 5v5, 47 have been blocked or around one every 3 minutes. Some of that is from the usual overreliance on point shots but it’s happening in the middle of the ice as well. This has affected some players more than others.

These are 3-game sample sizes so not something we can use for trends but the effects on MacKinnon are interesting. He’s leading in shot generation and points of course but quality lags a bit. Of his 17 attempts, none have been deemed high-danger. That’s a little misleading since he’s dangerous in areas where many are not. All he needs is space really, proximity to the net is secondary to that. I think this is a good proxy for how Dallas is clogging the slot and allowing the Avs to have space further away from the net. The problem here isn’t for Mack (or Mikko, Gabe and Kadri), it’s for everyone else. The forwards on that chart with really low iCF/60 (I’m looking at you JT Compher…) need space to move into and the staff haven’t come up with a tactical answer yet. Yes, this is where the depth scoring has been hiding.

The Avs shouldn’t feel comfortable going into today’s match but they do have quite a bit of upside both offensively and defensively that could flip the series and put it in their hands. We have yet to see something from Jared Bednar and the coaching staff that hints at a solid game plan. This is where the 4 days between games could give the Avs a distinct advantage. Dallas should be hesitant to change much since they’ve controlled the style of play the whole time so they’re going to have to react to anything Colorado does on the fly. I would look for a more aggressive forecheck and smaller gaps between the forwards and defensemen to start out. A little luck wouldn’t hurt either.

Burgundy Narrative Metric

– “Best guys being your best guys” gets a (+) yes, but that’s it
Quality vs Quantity gets a (+) plenty of quantity, quality is AWOL
– Power Play Watchability gets a (-) so inconsistent
The Dreaded Turtle gets a (+) still looking for our first one of the post-season
Starting Goalie Battle% gets a (+) we have one goalie, no battle
Referee Oppression Index gets a (+) game one was ok, game two was massively overmanaged. game three was better but still pretty awful

Total: +¾

Next up

A playoff back-to-back today and tomorrow. The series will look so different late Monday night.

Thanks as always to the NHL and Natural Stat Trick for numbers and visuals


Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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