Chris Haddad The Hockey Writers
Avalanche Lose Johnson, Grubauer in Game 1 Loss to Stars
The Colorado Avalanche’s 5-3 loss in Game 1 of their Round 2 series may be best remembered for how they lost it rather than how the Dallas Stars won it. The lack of effort by the Avalanche was noticeable throughout the contest, and it caused the team to have to play behind within the first four minutes of the game.
The Stars led for over 51 minutes and the Avs got called out by head coach Jared Bednar for not showing up on Saturday night in Game 1. Consistent stretches of strong play were rare and defensive breakdowns were common. The Avs’ performance has put the club in an unfamiliar place: behind in the series and without momentum.
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The Stars’ top line led the scoring in Game 1. Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov, and Tyler Seguin scored three of Dallas’ five goals and combined for eight points. The Stars scored four minutes into the game and led 3-1 at the first intermission. But it was not just the game that the Avs lost. Starting netminder Phillip Grubauer and alternate captain Erik Johnson both exited the game with injuries.
Grubauer’s is the most serious – he was unable to leave the ice under his own power – and he is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Erik Johnson was in and out of the trainer’s room after his injury but finally left the game for good late in the third period. Both players’ statuses are looking grim for Monday’s Game 2.
Matt Calvert skated in the pre-game warm-up but was ruled “unfit” and replaced in the line-up by Vladislav Namestnikov.
Game 1 Takeaways
Nate MacKinnon Is Awesome
When the Avs’ top line of Nate MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen are playing at their best, they’ll confuse even the best defensive team. MacKinnon’s first goal was a prime example of this.
The way the three of them cycled around in the offensive zone put the Stars into a tizzy and allowed MacKinnon to score one of the playoffs’ best goals. He scored two goals for the second consecutive game and Landeskog finally scored his first goal since March. Their chemistry looks to be in mid-season form, which will place a huge burden on the Stars’ top line.
Also, MacKinnon has at least one point in every playoff game thus far, even including the round-robin portion, leading the NHL playoff scoring race with 16 points. However, after the way in which the Avs dropped Game 1, it’s fair to wonder if the rest of the team can be trusted to pick up the slack if more defensive attention is heaped upon the MacKinnon line.
Avs Depth Disappears
The Avs’ scoring depth needs to come through in Game 2. The MacKinnon line will get theirs, but Nazem Kadri’s wingers need to step up and earn their ice time. Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky disappeared at even strength in Game 1, leaving Kadri alone in the offensive third too often. Those two combined for one shot on goal and a minus-5.
The third line of forwards and defenders performed even worse, generating three shots and a whopping minus-10 rating. After the game, Bednar called out “half his team” for lacking effort.
Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher, and Valeri Nichushkin are supposed to be the Avs’ top defensive forwards and instead, they were isolated and dominated as the club’s biggest liabilities. Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov combined for a minus-5 rating and Cole was often the sole defenseman on odd-man rushes. With Calvert still day-to-day, Johnson a big question mark, and Vlad Namestnikov also playing poorly, Bednar’s only solution for bad play might be motivational speaking and line changes.
Areas to Improve
Back to Basics
The Avalanche need to play a unified Game 2 where they stick to the Bednar fore and backchecking system. Preventing odd-man rushes and easy zone entrances are among the team’s top priorities. The Avalanche needs to do a much better job of play anticipation and positional awareness to seriously cut down on the uncontested Stars entries into the offensive zone.
The Stars surprised the Avs with its aggressiveness in Game 1, decreasing the decision-making time in every 50/50 confrontation. Giving the Stars a taste of their medicine will go a long way in restoring confidence to a lackluster Avs team. Setting the tone early and often has been a successful Avs strategy in these playoffs.
Cut cutting down on simple mistakes is critical in the playoffs. Offensively, the Avs could have had a different night had they not shot so many times directly at Anton Khubodin. Too many high danger scoring opportunities were wasted by shooting the puck right at the Stars’ netminder.
Defensively, too many times defenders got caught too far up ice to prevent rushes going the other way. Three of the Stars’ five goals were the result of odd-man rushes. Also, Zadorov’s insistence on playing the man instead of the puck was almost the sole reason the Stars scored their fifth goal.
Areas of Concern
Injuries Add New Twist
Pavel Francouz can capably replace Grubauer so there’s little reason to worry here, except that an injury to Francouz will result in third-stringer Michael Hutchinson backstopping the Avs. Johnson’s injury is much more concerning. The Avs have Matt Barberio up next and then top prospects Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins behind him.
Despite Byram’s higher place in the prospect hierarchy, I think it’s more likely that Timmins sees time if need be. Byram is yet to begin his professional career, and Timmins had a full season of 40 AHL (and 2 NHL) games under his belt in 2019-20.
Johnson had a heck of a series versus the Coyotes, leading rushes out of the zone and manning the point on the second power play. His loss will mean extra minutes for all Avs blueliners, and especially for the two who played well in Game 1, Cale Makar and Sami Girard. The Avalanche could very well make Timmins available for games without Johnson if Barberio is a liability.
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The Avs’ fourth line really played well all season and so breaking it up in Game 1 was an unfortunate consequence of Calvert’s injury. Namestnikov showed every bit of rust of a player who hadn’t played since getting hurt himself eight days earlier, on Aug. 14. in Game 2 of the Arizona series. If Calvert and Johnson can’t go on Monday night, then the normally deep Avs will suddenly be very thin and in another unfamiliar situation.
Looking to Game 2
The Avs need to win Game 2 on Monday to avoid going down 0-2 to a suddenly motivated Stars squad. This is a different team that the Avs played during the round-robin earlier this month. If the Avs don’t play with some urgency, they’ll suffer a quick exit from a season that looked so full of potential nary a week ago.
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