Monday was an example of two NHL powerhouses at limited capacity. Several key weapons were missing in the Western conference battle, including the Golden Knights highly-skilled center and the Avalanche’s heart and soul. Nevertheless, one injured collection defeated another in an entertaining one-goal affair.
It’s a good hockey team we played. Effort was there. We had a lot of good looks in the third, really buzzing, which is a good sign. There’s no quit in our room, which is a good thing. Moving forward, we just need to get healthy, we just need to get healthy. Guys are battling but it’s tough. – Nathan MacKinnon, COL center
This season, both contenders have had players in and out of their lineups due to injury. At this point, the Golden Knights have adjusted quicker than their counterpart. Certainly, it’s worth noting there are various reasons for the Avalanche’s slow starts including injuries, chemistry, and possibly a championship hangover to boot.
Without impact players Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, and Shea Theodore the Golden Knights beat the reigning NHL champs with role players stepping up. Vegas received all three goals from depth players rising to the occasion. Elevated forward Michael Amadio evened the score in the 1st period continuing his current pace for the best offensive season in his NHL career. Versatile center Nic Roy added the game-tying and game-winning goals in the middle period, proving again the Golden Knights can win without their stars.
It’s no question we are missing a lot of key players, guys that play a lot of big minutes, important pieces to the team. Guys stepping in have done a pretty good job, but we got to be better, a little bit more competitive. I can’t really speak for the games I wasn’t there, but we can definitely be a little more competitive, you know, get after it a little bit harder. -Darren Helm, COL forward
Offensively, Colorado has struggled without their paid assassins. With 25 goals scored, Mikko Rantanen is the Avalanche’s only player with more than nine. Vegas has six, including bottom-six forward William Carrier. The Avalanche haven’t had the same fortune from their fill-ins, especially when Nathan MacKinnon was missing from the lineup for 11 games. In that stretch, Colorado was 29th in scoring but managed to pick up 14 points through defense and goaltending. We’ve seen a dip in scoring since their Vegas’ roster thinned out but that should change as Eichel could be in Bruce Cassidy’s lineup this week.
NHL injury visualization. Man games lost to injuries and health protocols versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost for games (Lost-ps metric) pic.twitter.com/aoWUuc5WoK
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) December 23, 2022
Assuming we see healthier versions of these teams later in the season, there’s a real possibility that Colorado and Vegas will face each other in a seven-game series. It’s likely both rosters are deeper, intact and ready for playoff runs. The bright side for Golden Knights fans is if Amadio, Carrier, and Roy continue to score like mid-six forwards on the bottom six, Colorado will have their hands full.
Who am I kidding? Cale Makar and a healthy MacKinnon pose a greater problem.
As I’ve said before playing your best against the opponents best is what any sport is about. Unfortunately in hockey it’s usually a watered down product. We have 9 players out and Colorado has how many out and who would consider that the best against the best? Hockey in general overlooks this with the famous next man up nonsense. When you have 9 players out when does the next man up lose it’s value. If I was going to take my kid to a game I want to see McDavid, Mckinnon, Crosby, Eichel, etc. not a bunch of AHL players but that’s just me. Baseball spring training opens in February and for me hockey goes on the back burner.