When the puck dropped last night the Dallas Stars had a clear initiative and they wasted no time showing it to the Golden Knights. They want to forecheck the Golden Knights as heavily as possible and challenge every single Vegas exit.
In the first two rounds, the Golden Knights looked like they were holding a clinic on how to break the puck out of the zone. It felt like every time Vegas would head back into their own they’d collect the puck, move it once or twice and exit the zone with ease. Then, the Stars entered the picture and Vegas’ clinic turned into something out of the first few scenes of a Mighty Ducks movie before Gordon Bombay works his magic.
Here is the very first shift of the game.
First, Theodore tries to go up the wall and is denied. Then, Martinez throws an aimless pass up the center of the ice that’s picked off for a scoring chance. Pacioretty then gets it and is crunched by two guys keeping him from exiting the puck out of the zone. There’s a puck battle that Vegas loses. Dallas actually clears their own zone for Vegas’ first exit of the game. The Stars reload, send it back in, and immediately McNabb loses a race but still gets it to Schmidt. He sends a no-look pass to Marchessault, which doesn’t connect. And finally, Smith isn’t first on a loose puck off a block.
Seven Golden Knights players are mentioned in that paragraph. Every single one of them either made a poor play or saw the Stars pressure beat them to the play they wanted to make. If you watch that clip multiple times, you’ll honestly forget the game is being played at even-strength. There are white and green jerseys everywhere and the Golden Knights can’t seem to handle it.
They’re chucking pucks around, reaching with their sticks, getting beat up along the boards, and getting outskated, badly.
Here’s another shift just a few minutes later from the same period.
I won’t break this one down play by play, but Vegas’ clearing attempts are all feeble. Backhand flips, no-look chips, and hopeful slides are the characteristics of the way the Golden Knights are trying to get the puck out of the zone.
It went on and on in the 1st period and continued to appear across the entire 60 minutes of the game.
So, the question now is can they adjust?
We know darn well that the Golden Knights have the ability to break the puck out of their zone. They’ve been doing it quickly and cleanly during these entire playoffs and it has been an emphasis from Pete DeBoer since he took the job.
You’ve got to find a way. You get what you deserve in this league a lot of nights and we just didn’t put in enough work to earn a win. -DeBoer
The excuse of three games in four nights has been bandied around by just about everyone including DeBoer. That excuse rings hollow to me personally as the bigger difference is simply the opponent.
Vancouver defended really well but didn’t have that heaviness that Dallas has. We haven’t played the best defensive team or one of the top two defensive teams in the league yet. This is going to be a different series and we’re going to have to get our head around that. -DeBoer
Dallas is not going to suddenly back off and look like Vancouver or Chicago when it comes to forechecking. They’ll be there, breathing down the Golden Knights’ necks, on every shift they can for the remainder of the series.
If they look like they did in Game 1, this series will be over in a hurry and the Golden Knights will be taking a sad charter back home from Edmonton. But, if they can get back to the way they’re capable of transitioning from defense to offense, the series will change quickly. There were flashes of it in the 3rd period but it needs to be more consistent.
The Golden Knights are in a real playoff series now, they have to respond, and it’s going to start and end with whether or not they can deal with the Dallas forecheck.