Last night during my postgame Periscope a question popped into the comments that asked for a positive takeaway from Game 1. In the moment, I really didn’t have an answer. In a 7-1 drubbing that was marred by an entire period of “loser hockey,” nothing jumped off the page as positive from the Golden Knights. But, I went back over some of the numbers, re-watched the 1st period, and listened to Pete DeBoer’s morning press conference, and I’m now ready and able to give a much better answer.
First off, the start of the game was really good for the Golden Knights. Their exits were on point, they were challenging the Avalanche at the blue line, and they made life difficult on MacKinnon and Co. for the first few shifts. Puck management is priority #1 for the Golden Knights in this series and for the first stretch of the game they handled themselves very well.
When you watch the video, the first 10 minutes of that game we were actually okay. I think we had the first two or three scoring chances, we had the first power play, we had a couple opportunities on rushes to create something. -Pete DeBoer
Here are a couple of examples. First, one on a challenged entry that leads to a great exit.
Watch how the Golden Knights dictate the side of the ice the puck carrier must skate into. Then, they quickly get back to the puck, move it around the boards, then up to Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone’s positioning is perfect for the exit. This is how the Golden Knights play when they are at their best, and just one minute into the game, they were.
Vegas is changing behind the play and they execute it perfectly. Watch the wall of players at the blue line as the Avs try to enter. Then, Nick Holden has support from Shea Theodore, and Mattias Janmark has support from Nic Roy. Puck goes in, the Golden Knights go back to get it and clear it right back out with perfect structure.
Moving on, the simple box score will tell you that Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, as well as Cale Makar, were absolutely dominant in Game 1. And they were. The Colorado top line was on the ice for three goals and there were a couple more scored while Makar was out there. Plus, they each posted ridiculous shot, chance, and goal share numbers. But they did not have the same success against every one of the Golden Knights they faced.
While the Colorado top line had their way with the VGK Misfit Line (Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith), they were not nearly as successful against Stone, Pacioretty, and Stephenson. Alex Tuch and Holden both held their own, and even advanced the game for the Golden Knights against MacKinnon too.
Of course, the Golden Knights remain on the road for Game 2, so they don’t have the ability to dictate matchups as much as they’d prefer, but seeing a group of players have success against the big guys from Colorado certainly gives hope that when the series shifts back to Las Vegas there will be some desired options for DeBoer to choose from.
Lastly, there was some success from the Vegas 4th line before they decided to stop playing hockey and start trying to hurt people.
When the game remained in the balance (the first 30+ minutes), the group of Patrick Brown, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier were able to control the flow of play while they were on the ice. They wastest a MacKinnon shift on the first shift of the game and then worked their way into a great scoring chance by Patrick Brown on their next shift.
They played a good portion of their time against the Avs line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Alex Newhook, and Sampo Ranta and Vegas got the better of the matchup.
It’s clear the Golden Knights are going to need to get offense from their bottom-six, and while it didn’t come in Game 1, there were enough good moments to feel like it’s at least possible moving forward through the series.
You walk out and you feel poorly about the performance and it’s easy to make a blanket statement and say we were really bad… But it wasn’t all bad, as ridiculous as that sounds, and we’ll look at the things we did well and try and fix some of the things we didn’t. -DeBoer
After digging into it, he’s really not just blowing smoke. Sure, it’s obvious the Golden Knights have to play a whole heck of a lot better if they want to win four of the next six games, but even in a 7-1 butt-kicking, there were some blocks for Vegas to build on.