To beat the Colorado Avalanche, you must neutralize their top line. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog scored 70 goals and tallied 183 points in the 56-game regular season. Since the playoffs have begun, they’ve actually upped their pace with 16 goals and 36 assists in seven games.
In the three games against the Golden Knights, the Avs best have scored seven goals and added five more assists. If that continues through the series, the Golden Knights have little to no chance to come back and win. But, when we break the numbers down a bit, Vegas have actually had much more success against the Colorado top line recently and it’s the main reason they have a chance to even the series in Game 4.
I haven’t seen the stats, but go ahead and check the numbers on our top guys tonight and see what they did compared to their top guys. It’s not close. -Jared Bednar, COL coach (after Game 3)
In Game 3, Vegas’ top line shared the ice with MacKinnon for a little more than 10 minutes. The Golden Knights outshot the Avs 7-3, they outchanced Colorado 11-4, held the Avalanche’s best to zero high-danger chances while creating six, and most importantly, scored the game-winning goal.
Digging deeper, the numbers have been that way the entire series, even during the terrible Game 1. To simplify, we’ll look just at the centers playing against MacKinnon, but the numbers are similar for each of their lines as a whole.
Bednar’s top guys have gotten destroyed by Vegas’ top-line, but they’ve easily handled the “Misfit” line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault.
We want to make them defend. It’s no secret that’s the way you want to play against the best players in the league. We want to make them play down in their end, have the puck, make them waste some energy, and make them stop in their own end. -Max Pacioretty
Now would be a great time for player/puck tracking to show us the heat maps, but since the NHL is lollygagging on those stats we’ll have to rely on the eye test. In Games 2 and 3, it was rare to see extended zone time from MacKinnon and Co. in the offensive zone against VGK’s top line. They were forced to defend much more than they like and the stats bore it out.
Moving forward, it’s about getting the right matchup. It hasn’t happened every time, but a majority of the time the Golden Knights have had the choice of which line to play against MacKinnon, DeBoer has chosen Stephenson, Stone, and Pacioretty.
In three games, Vegas’ top line has shared the ice with MacKinnon for nearly 24 minutes, while Karlsson’s line comes in at half of that, and the other two lines have combined for 12 minutes. To start Game 3, DeBoer abandoned his 4th line preference to seek out the matchup. He followed it up doing the same to begin periods two and three.
It’s a big ask. If you ask anybody in the NHL, Boston’s first line and Colorado’s first line would be in the conversation for best line in the world. So we’re asking (Stephenson) to play against Nathan MacKinnon and that line every night here and try and create offense at the same time. I think our group has done a phenomenal job. -DeBoer
Phenomenal is almost an understatement. They’ve been everything and more the Golden Knights can ask for and now, with the gauntlet laid to his top players by Jared Bednar, they’ll have to be even better to keep the Avs down in Game 4.
If they do it, the Golden Knights will be right back in this series before you know it.
**Line stats for this article were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com*