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VGK’s Top-Line “Phenomenal” Against MacKinnon And Colorado’s Best

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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*




Twitter Space Pre Game 4 VGK vs COL – June 5th, 2021


  1. Richard Santomauro

    I’ve seen way too many delay game penalties recently. That’s such an avoidable penalty! Clean it up. I am not a huge fan of banking those clears off the glass. I’d rather see a scrum along the boards.

  2. Brad Whitehead

    Good article. One quibble – you wrote …“they’ve easily handled the “Misfit” line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Chandler Stephenson.” I think you rearranged the lines a bit here.

  3. THE hockey GOD

    that is one of the best game this team has ever played, need to keep the ball rolling , no dead cat bounce

  4. Daryl

    The reason the Avs are so good is their depth. Being able to handle or stay even with COL 1st line is essential but that’s only a start. VGK needs to handle or at least somewhat control their other lines if they have a chance to come back and win

    • Kevin Spence

      Agree that handling all lines is critical, but seems VGK have done decently at that. The Karlsson line is light on Corsi, but they had goals … so I’ll take that! These look decent … no?

      Corsi for the last game…by line…
      Stephenson/Stone/Pac: 19-12 (65%)
      Karlsson/March/: 13-15 (46%) but two goals!
      Tuch/Roy/Sikura: 18-5 (78%)
      Brown/Carrier/Kole: 17-4 (81%)

      • Don’t get me wrong. The Karlsson line has been excellent against everyone else. They just can’t be out there against MacKinnon.

      • Daryl

        I absolutely hate Corsi… It favors teams that shoot a lot and really it makes no sense to me. How is it a negative for a shot from the blueline that isn’t even on net?

        Other than the Corsi I agree with you

  5. Kevin Spence

    Nice analysis!

    A bit off-topic, but still in the stats conversation … how is Stone holding up? He seems off … and seems to have been for the last several games. Some passes that seemed a bit careless and un-Stone-like, and he also seems a bit slow.

    Aside from the eye-test, he’s had a single takeaway total for the 3 COL games, and is usually good for more than that … so wondering if he’s 100%?

    • This is just how it’s gonna look in the playoffs. The other teams are going to key in on him. I think he’s been solid in this series.

      • Kevin Spence

        Fair enough … I get that we’re not playing LA/SJ … and it’s the playoffs, where opponents will key on the main guys. I get it. Just had seen him be a bit slow in transition, so didn’t know if there was an injury or ? … thanks for the reply

        • Daryl

          I think the other difference is the speed of the Avs. Stone would make no look passes to players rushing the net but against COL those players aren’t alone.

    • Stone has been excellent. The takeaway stay is gonna be very down in the playoffs…. Can you imagine how hard it is to steal the puck from McKinnon and rantonen. I mean c’mon McKinnon is one of the top 2 players on the planet for a reason – one being he’s unbelievable with the puck and quick as a mad cat. Noone is gonna be stealing the puck from him regularly. Try thinking of hard it was to steal the ball from Michael Jordan. Stone has half the speed of McKinnon and his linemates and is still neutralizing them with his craftiness, hard work, and high hockey iq. We should all be feeling extremely fortunate for the job their doing on those friggin beasts.

  6. Kevin Spence: I agree-‘ Stone looks hurt. He is slower than usual( he’s no no speed demon, anyway); he seems out of step, not as aggessive and animated. On the flip side: Pacioretti is BACK!!!!

    • Kevin Spence

      Yeah…aggressive is a good word for what is missing. He’s doing ‘OK’, but visually seems really … flat …

      On the GA/TA thinking, COL runs their offense like a solo charging bull through the NZone, so COL won’t do a ton of lateral passes at/near the blue line (which is why Ken’s call out on gap control addresses that). This means Stone (or anyone) won’t get the poke-check chances for possible takeaways.

      For the series, VGK are even with COL on GA/TA … whereas for the reg season, VGK finished with 70+ more takeaways than giveaways. It’s just a big part of the opportunistic VGK game that isn’t going to show up as often against a good puck handling team
      that flies solo through the NZ and dumps.

  7. Bent Hermit

    I have never been a big fan of PDB but I like to give credit where it’s due. After game 1 he did a great job of not allowing the MacKinnon line to go against the Karlsson line. I don’t think Bednar was too concerned during game 2 with the matchup but game 3 he woke up and realized what was going on. I look for Bednar to break up his 1st line if he can’t get better matchups in game 4. In game 5 he can go back to his top line. The Misfit line is going to have to step up in game 5 because Bednar is not going to let PDB go 1st line vs 1st line like he did in game 2.

    • Kevin Spence

      Near the end of the game, I thought Landeskog was moved to Line 2 (I think it was him) … so you’re spot on that COL will make moves. We’ll see what other changes there might be and what PDB might have to then counter with

      • Bent Hermit

        If the Avs try to match their 1st vs VGK 2nd I would try bumping Tuch up to the 2nd. That’s only if the Misfit line struggles. Tuch is good at using his speed and size against MacKinnon. The problem with the Misfit line is that they like to play the same style game that the MacKinnon line does. They both like to move the puck up ice fast then make passes once in the O zone to open up the D and get the goalie moving. The problem is that they both are not good at taking away the neutral zone and shutting down the middle of the ice. VGK’S 1st, 3rd and 4th are better at taking away the neutral zone and middle of the ice which forces the Avs 1st line to play a dump and chase style when entering the O zone, which the Avs 1st and VGK 2nd lines are not as good at. Basically both lines play the same way except the 1 has a lot more skill on it so the Misfit line is going to struggle. The good is that the Avs as a team is not good at taking away the middle of the ice and the Misfit line is better than the other 3 Avs lines at playing that style.

  8. Rob

    Was at the game and seeing the each of the periods start without the fourth line on the ice was sweet relief.

    And Kolesar seems to be .. improving? That really the case, or just the eyes seeing what they want to, given who he replaced?

  9. vegasbucs

    Game 3 was a great win for the Knights. If they don’t win game 4 it will make game 3 meaningless. Just my opinion. They need to make Game 4 their best of series and just let the roll continue.

  10. Gary

    Ken, I told you on Twitter that the toughest opponent VGK would face was Minnesota. You told me I was wrong. This series is over and VGK sweeps the Habs next

    • You are still wrong. The Avs are lightyears better than the Wild. And… The Avs aren’t even the best team Vegas will face if they keep going.

    • Daryl

      What are you talking about? MIN isn’t even close to as good as the Avs are. Whether VGK beats them or not, COL is the best team in this division

  11. sb

    The weak spot of the VGK is obvious and to get past Colorado, that needs to reverse from the weakness to a strength.
    MAF’s last five games SA% – .880%, .900%, .875%, 769% and .900 (at the cost of $7 mil per season). And the Vezina talk has suddenly vanished.
    Compare this to Grubauer’s last five game SA% – .969%, .900%, .951%, .960% and .930% (at the cost of $3.3 mil).
    Why is Colorado winning? Obvious. It’s goaltending. Why is Vegas struggling? Obvious. It’s goaltending.

  12. sb

    Can a team with sub-.900SA% beat a team with .960SA% in a seven game series? That’s never happened. Not once. The likely outcome is that for every 50 shots on net, Vegas will only get two goals. If Grubauer remains Grubauer, Colorado will move to Round 3 and the $12 million dollar investment becomes a long-term salary cap liability.

    • Jeff

      Let’s hope you’re right.

    • Daryl

      The $12m investment t is already a Cap killer. Lehner is nowhere to be found. And remember, VGK plan was to get rid of MAF not keep him so really this isn’t about the $12m.

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