This was an ugly loss, and it put the Colorado Avalanche down 0-2 in their second round series with the Dallas Stars. The Stars took Game 2 by a score of 5-2 off the back of four goals from high danger areas and an empty net goal to seal the deal.
It was looking so good for the Avs in the first period. They were massively ahead in shots and zone time in the Stars zone, Nathan MacKinnon and co. put the team up 2-0, everything was looking great. But then all of a sudden in the second period, the Stars pummelled the front of the net with chances and their bodies and the Avs just collapsed under them. And then once the lead was gone, the Avs pushed and they got scored on again. The third period saw a total of 12 shots for both teams combined, the Avs had 20 in the first period just on their own. I guess that’s how quickly things can change.
Pavel Francouz stopped 22 of 26 in the loss, he wasn’t the problem tonight. Once you re-watch the second, third, and fourth goals, you’ll see how a complete lack of coverage, luck, and defensive responsibility completely left the Czech completely on his own.
The Avalanche power play was dynamite right out of the box when they got their first chance of the game six minutes in. Mikko Rantanen beat Anton Khudobin right off the faceoff, but couldn’t get the puck into the net. The Avs retrieved control well on the left side and Cale Makar got the puck back to Rantanen, who fed MacKinnon a sweet flip pass over Blake Comeau for a one-timer. Khudobin had no chance.
Mikko and Mac connected again on the power play later in the period. It’s incredible how the four others Avs on the ice were able to make MacKinnon invisible on that play. Rantanan with the puck is incredibly dangerous and as a distributor, shooter, and pushing the puck to the net so the Stars had to cover all three passes (resetting to Makar, setting up Kadri’s shot, and working low with Landeskog) along with his shot, all leaving MacKinnon completely on his own. I’m sure the Stars thought they had the cross-ice pass covered, but Rantanen had other ideas.
And the most important part — a lead!
Like Omar showed, the Avs had a great first period on the power play and at even strength. The Avs were ahead in shot attempts at 5v5 (20-8), 4v4 (6-1), and they had six shot attempts on their three power plays and didn’t give up a shot on Dallas’ single power play.
MacKinnon had a great period, but more importantly he made everyone around him better. Landeskog led the team in individual expected goals, Rantanen and Kadri led the way with three shot attempts each, and the MacKinnon was 7-0 in shot attempts on the ice. All of these stats were at 5v5 in just the first period.
Oh, and in all situations…
Shots on goal after 20 minutes:
Nathan MacKinnon: 7
Rest of #Avs: 12
— Aarif Deen (@runwriteAarif) August 25, 2020
The Stars got one back with Sam Girard in the box after he got booked for a slash on Jason Dickinson during a scrum. The Avs were down two men because Ian Cole took a penalty on the 5-on-4. On cue, it was Pavelski that scored the goal from in front of the net. Alexander Radulov fed Pavelski a pass across the crease for a one-timer Francouz had no chance against.
With Cole still in the box, the Stars tied the game. Nikita Zadorov acts like a big tough guy when he can hit guys into the boards, but he looked pretty damn useless on his ass as Corey Perry and Radek Faksa got three shots in the blue paint on Francouz before he finally couldn’t stop the final rebound by Faksa. I really need to be convinced of Zadorov’s value because I don’t see it at all. He’s tough? Where? He’s scary to play against? The Stars don’t think so.
Voodoo goal to put the Stars ahead, of course. Jamie Benn centred the puck to Radulov, but the puck bounced off Girard’s stick, up the chest of Radulov, and spun like a disc over Francouz and into the net.
So, that was six minutes.
It didn’t get better as Kadri got hit in the side of the knee from some friendly fire from Makar. He didn’t make it on the ice for a power play the Avs got near the end, Tyson Jost replaced him in the bumper slot.
It’s official, the Stars opened an office in the Avs blue paint incorporated. With impunity, Esa Lindell was able to tip a shot in front of the net, grab his own rebound, and slap it in through Francouz without anyone bothering to get him out of the way. Francouz was literally pushed in the net like it was nothing. The Avs called for a review on the goal, not claiming goalie interference, but whether the puck crossed the line or not. It was called a legal goal (“good goal” is a meaningless term).
JT Compher had a chance in tight as the final buzzer for the period went, but even with a great move to spin and shoot on his forehand he couldn’t beat Khudobin.
I don’t know if depth scoring will be an issue after this game, the middle six beyond Kadri struggled a lot — Valeri Nichushkin, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky were all deeply negative in expected goals after two — but I worry the team’s defensive commitment has waned a lot. The front of the net was just way too easy to get to long before the two power plays that got the Stars back in the game. After the Stars scored their three goals, the Avs genuinely looked lifeless, which I don’t think I’ve seen before in these playoffs.
By the shots, the Avs were still up at 5v5 (12-10), but the Stars got nine shot attempts in three and a half minutes on the power play. The Stars converted twice on a .93 expected goals on the power play (meaning the sum of their nine chances added up to a 93% chance of a goal, and they got two goals out of it).
Oh, and also:
I don’t know what to say about the third other than the Stars played their typically smothering defense and the Avs couldn’t manage more than six shots until the final four minutes of the period. The Stars only took two shots themselves but they didn’t technically need to take any to win the game, as long as the Avs didn’t score.
The Avs were kept to the outside and could only manage shots from bad angles even in the final four minutes. With three minutes left, the Avs got a power play (Comeau in the box) and pulled Francouz for a two-man advantage. Even with two extra players, the Avs couldn’t touch the middle of the ice. The best chance they got was a Kadri tip in the high slot and a MacKinnon shot from the right faceoff dot. Girard was their sixth guy and he was just at the top of the zone with Rantanen and Makar, I don’t know why they didn’t try someone like Namestnikov or Nichushkin or Burakovsky to help play in front of the net and create some space.
Alas, the Stars scored in the empty net. Girard tried to stop the puck before it crossed the line but he couldn’t quite get there in time. Ballgame.
I think the chickens are coming home to roost for half the Avs defense corps. You know my thoughts on Nikita Zadorov, he looked hopeless without Erik Johnson next to him. Same goes for Ryan Graves when you take him away from Makar’s insane puck moving and resulting corsi numbers. And I know it’s not primarily his job, but Sam Girard is really bad in his own zone and when defensive babysitters aren’t there around him, he looks really exposed.
This game showed massive flaws in half the defense that has per percolating for a while. Zadorov is reckless, Graves is in over his head when he has to deal with tougher competition, and Girard can’t be more than a sheltered secondary offensive defenseman. I guess it’s good that Connauton seemed invisible in this game, but it might be because he only played 10:31 minutes, eight seconds less than the injured EJ played in Game 1. Maybe this was an outlier bad game for these guys on the back end, but unfortunately, we may only get two more chances to test that theory.
Game 3 is Wednesday at 8:30pm MT.