The theme didn’t change on Friday after the Vegas Golden Knights practice. The talk was still about how embarrassed the Golden Knights were by Thursday’s effort. How the lack of forecheck pressure on the Colorado Avalanche defense led to opportunities and odd-man rushes against the VGK. Today the Golden Knights have a chance to flip the script in a matinee rematch with the Avs.
Vegas Golden Knights (22-8-1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (21-8-3)
This has been a back-and-forth series the entire season. Both teams have looked fantastic, both have also looked bad. Vegas has shut out the Avalanche twice in their two wins. Colorado has scored at least three goals against the Golden Knights in each victory. The key difference lies not with the Avalanche, but with the Golden Knights.
For Colorado the attack starts from the defensive zone with several gifted puck-moving defensemen who can skate or make a great outlet pass. Hockey coaches teach kids from a young age that no player can skate as fast as you can pass the puck, so moving that outlet to the neutral zone quickly creates more opportunity and more speed on the rush. When the attack is moving quickly, you make the opposing defenders pivot (turn and skate back towards their own goal instead of skating backwards and keeping an eye on the attack). It’s much harder for them to defend, and now even more scoring chances can happen off the rush.
The best way to kill the momentum is to nip it in the bud at the source: the first touch in the Colorado Avalanche defensive zone. Cue the Vegas Golden Knights forecheck.
Watch for several small but important factors as the VGK approach the Colorado blue line. First, when they dump the puck in that they’re hitting the offensive zone with speed already. Second, that they put the puck in an area where the goalie can’t make a quick play on it to turn the momentum. Third, that they are immediately engaging the defenseman in a puck battle before he has a chance to make a move with it. Fourth, the second forward into the zone (commonly referred to as F2) must support the battle puck side high. Puck side high means his body is between the battle and the blue line. That way if the puck moves towards exiting the zone, F2 is there to cut it off and increase the chances of maintaining time in the offensive zone.
It’s a lot of moving parts, but that’s why the coordination and timing of the effort is so critical. If one of these things is off, the forecheck often fails unless the other team makes a mistake. This will be the difference in today’s game.
Keep An Eye On
Vegas Golden Knights
The entire forward group. Not only the Mark Stone line, but all four lines must get it going right off the opening faceoff. In particular, the fourth line could prove to be a game-changer if they’re able to pin the Avalanche back with their blend of aggression and speed. It wouldn’t hurt to throw a few big hits early and rattle some cages. Vegas has to show that they are interested and engaged from the start.
Samuel Girard often gets overlooked because of Cale Makar’s spectacular play, but Girard has been a nice find for the Avalanche along with Devon Toews. Girard comes into the game with 25 points, leading all Colorado defensemen (although Makar has played 10 fewer games due to injury). He’s not big but he can skate, move the puck and has good vision in all zones. There’s a tendency to fixate on Makar, but keep an eye on Girard. He always seems to be in the middle of things somehow.
- Thursday’s game marked the first time this season that the VGK have scored the first goal of the game and lost in regulation (18-1-1).
- The game was also the first time Vegas led after the first period and lost (14-1-0)
- Colorado is 16-0-1 when leading after two periods, but surprisingly 0-5-0 when trailing after two.
- Vegas’ strongest period this season has been the third, with a +18 goal differential. The Avalanche tend to dominate in the second period, with a +19 rating.
- Unfortunately for the VGK, the second period is the team’s weakest with a minus-7 goal differential.
- Philipp Grubauer’s win was his 20th in his 27th start, making him the fastest goaltender in franchise history to reach the mark.
- Jared Bednar is now the third-winningest coach in Avalanche/Nordiques history with 166 wins, passing Marc Crawford (165).