Before the series even began, the Winnipeg Jets head coach detailed one of the most important aspects of the game for the Golden Knights.
Play as fast we can. To do that, your D have to get back, your forwards have to get back and help out, make that first outlet pass. Don’t be looking for second or third options, you have to make that first option and go. -Rick Bowness, Jets coach
To start the game, the Golden Knights were all over the Jets on the forecheck, forcing critical turnovers that could have led to the game’s first goal. Vegas’ forwards pressured the puck deep in the offensive zone and Winnipeg’s reads were not fast nor correct.
Here are two examples from the first four minutes of action.
Roy throws the puck into a good area where the goalie cannot go back and retrieve it and then gets on his horse to go pressure it. The key is the challenge on the second pass from Kolesar. He flies into the zone to push the second defender off of the play, leaving the puck available for Roy to move it to Howden for a Grade A+ chance.
Pietrangelo’s hesitation starts this play by taking the ice in front of him and allowing Vegas to have all five skaters near the blue line when the puck is dumped in. The puck is sent in hard this time, once again keeping it away from the goalie. Stephenson zooms into the zone to force the initial pass back, then Stone is there to pressure the next one. One simple stick check win by Stone, and now Amadio has a wonderful look.
It looked like this type of pressure would be there all night. But then, it stopped, and it really never started back up.
I wish I could tell you (why it stopped). Maybe frustration. Obviously our forecheck has to be better, that’s a key part of the game. They’re not an overly physical group back there but they move the puck well. So, we’ve got to find a way to put it in spots where they dont have time and space. -Mark Stone
Connor Hellebuyck had a lot to say about why the Vegas forecheck was ineffective much of the rest of the night. As you’ll notice in the two clips above, Hellebuyck stays in his crease forcing the defensemen to make the first play. That was not the case on many dump-ins as the game wore on.
When Hellebuyck was able to play the puck, it often caused Vegas’ forecheck to show up late to challenge Winnipeg’s breakout. The first pass from Hellebuyck to either defenseman relieved pressure from the initial forechecker leading to a domino effect of less and less pressure on each ensuing pass.
Here’s an example of how it looks.
Amadio is in position to forecheck here, but because Hellebuyck plays it, he’s unable to pressure the defensemen, then Kessel is not yet there to challenge the next pass, and Marchessault’s not far enough into the zone to challenge the final pass out.
The next problem came with the movement of VGK plays through the neutral zone.
I think we were a little bit stationary going through the neutral zone so you are not one top of them and you are getting it and then chipping it in rather than doing it in one motion. And then our D can help on the forecheck 5-on-5 a little more to be on top of them starting with better gaps. -Bruce Cassidy
From there, it tends to snowball in the wrong direction. The less often the forecheck is effective, the fewer chances a team like the Golden Knights will get.
Our forecheck game has been effective specifically against this team earlier in the year. I know things have changed but when we’re good we’re on top of teams. It shows in the chance totals, the shot clock, a lot of different things and we weren’t that team tonight. -Cassidy
The good news for the Golden Knights is that it won’t take a ton of adjustments to get the forecheck going again. They proved they could do it early in the game and they just need to do it more often over the course of the 60 minutes.
If they do, the game will look a whole lot different. If not, it’ll likely be a 2-0 deficit when they hop on the flight up to Manitoba.