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Game 15 Recap "The Change": Avs' new defensive system works; Avs beat Leafs 3-2 in a shootout

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Roy's new system seemed to find it's game and the Avs were able to win in a shootout after the Leafs scored late with an extra man.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Game 15 Recap: The Change

Well this should be interesting. Rumor has it there will be a relatively new defensive strategy employed tonight. I shall watch for it. But of course Roy does this the day I have to recap. #trolling.

I will save my judgment for later but I will say as an editor’s note. The man-to-man system Roy used last was high risk/high reward but in a lot of ways it was used because defensively the Avs weren’t good, at all. It worked but seemed to be a Band-Aid fix; we all knew it somehow. I do think that this team – despite their current atrocious play – is better rounded. I think the top 3 defensemen of Johnson, Barrie, and Holden can play a more sound defensive game in a zone system than the man-to-man strategy. Along with players who can play that system like Iginla and Tanguay as well as Landeskog and O’Reilly. My worry is Duchene and MacKinnon because their speed is somewhat hindered. However, their speed wasn’t doing anything for the first month. Good on Roy for changing it up; the Avs needed something.

Period 1:

MacKinnon’s line started the game and actually won no lost a face off…well nevermind. The first shift saw MacKinnon and Iginla buzzing around the Toronto net. Bernier came out to chase MacKinnon and MacK took the puck around the net and found Holden at the bottom of the near face off circle who fired the shot into an open net. 1-0 Avs.

Uh ohs. On the following shift Winnik was skating into the zone and Hejda stepped up. Winnik seemed to jump and awkwardly roll off Hejda’s hip and apparently landed on his neck. The stretcher came out and took Winnik off the ice. All the prayers to him - that was a weird, weird hit.

With just over 2 minute gone, MacKinnon streaked up the center and split the defense. As he broke in he fed Landeskog and the Avs managed to find room but he only got off a weak shot. Toronto responded with Kessel's chance and after a weird bounce that saw the puck come to the Toronto defense with a wide-open net (where the fuck Berra was looking? who knows), but MacKinnon luckily was able to block it.

The MacKinnon line came out and had a spectacular shift. He was flying around the rink and after a nice entry by Barrie the Avs threw some tough shots on Bernier. On the second break out MacKinnon was gone on a two on one, but the defenseman hauled him down. Power play of the Avs.

PP1: Well the PP sucked. End of story

However, like the Avs love to do as the power play ended they went crazy. Iginla ripped a shot off the pipe. MacKinnon had a great tip that beat Bernier but as it trickled behind him and Toronto was able to save the goal.

Toronto was able to get zone entry after winning the next faceoff and we finally got to see the Avs new system. It looked fine because Berra was able to stop the shot.

The Avs 3rd line came out with just about half left in the period. Redmond had a great rush and saw the Avs 3rd line get an beautiful chance in front, but Mitchell was tied up and couldn’t get a stick on it.

With 9 minutes left, the Avs managed to get a makeshift 2 on 1 through the neutral zone. Landeskog beautiful fed Johnson in front but he was slashed before he could finish his move. Power play for the Avs, again.

PP2: Toronto took a longish-range shot on Berra and the puck snuck under his arm but slowed down enough for the Avs to clear it. The MacKinnon unit had possession for the remaining minute but couldn’t generate any good chances.

The power play was better, I guess, but Duchene’s shift that followed saw him fly through the neutral zone and rip a shot on Bernier who had to stretch to get it. O’Reilly had the rebound with an open net, but the puck rolled.

After two nice rushes by the Avs, Toronto was able to get a lucky bounce and come back on a 2 on 1. Barrie was already deep so Guenin was back. He played the 2 on 1 well and slid on his stomach (that's the correct play despite whatever the fuck Justin Bourne claims) and took away the easy pass. The Toronto player saucered the puck over Guenin to the other winger but he put it wide.

That good feeling didn’t last long. MacKinnon came through the neutral zone and stopped at the blue line. The puck was stripped from his stick and Toronto came up the ice. After a shot around to the point, the subsequent shot banked off a player in the air to the edge of the net and Kessel batted it out of the air into the net. Wow. 1-1.

The final few minutes saw a few flurries on both side including some impressive chemistry with Tanguay, Mitchell, and Everberg.

NEW DEFENSIVE SYSTEM UPDATE: Hard to say seeing as Toronto probably had 2 minutes of total zonetime. Most of their shifts were get in, get a shot or two, and they were out. Even the goal was a whacky bounce. During the few shifts where Toronto was moving around, I saw good and bad. The good is that Barrie and Johnson were directing traffic and making sure not to chase. The kept Toronto cycling wouldn’t let Toronto get into that system where everyone is circling like when you stir a pot of water and it stirs itself for a while. The Avs seemed to stop all flow by being in the correct zone position. The bad however was a miscommunication by Mitchell who didn’t know where to go and Toronto had two open shots that were blocked.

Period 2:

The Avs started off the period much better than they way they left it in the 1st which saw Toronto have to ice the puck 3 times.

The game slowed down for a few minutes, which saw MacKinnon get obviously tripped; yet, there was no call. But coincidentally, the follow play saw Redmond slash the Toronto player’s stick in front of the net and was sent off.

PK1: Right away Toronto won possession and Berra lost his stick. Toronto was able to move it down low and feed the player in front who beat Berra. 2-1 Leafs.

The Avs followed that goal with a great shift by the Duchene line. The puck came back to the Avs defense as the Avs forward changed. Redmond quickly passed and sprung Tanguay on a breakaway after he snuck behind the Toronto defense. Tanguay skated in, deked left, and put it above Bernier. 2-2.

The MacKinnon line followed suit and Mack started flat out flying. Every time he touched the puck he was finding speed and space and using that speed to create openings. After two nice shots, the puck came to the near corner and Johnson made a nice offensive pinch. Iginla got the puck fed McGinn who had just come off the bench and fired a wrist shot but Bernier was able to glove it down.

After the Avs were buzzing around the Toronto zone, Hejda fired a shot from the point that was blocked. Mitchell then had his stick spontaneously combust as the puck was hoisted into the neural zone launching Kessel on a breakaway. Kessel chased the puck down, moved in on Berra, but Berra made a huge fucking save. Fucking huge.

The Avs started to slow down the game – absolutely at Roy’s command. The Avs fourth line had a great, tough shift to wear down the Toronto defenders (which is good because they are down Gardiner). At the tail end of the their shift, as the puck was in the neutral zone, Tanguay stole the puck and had a close up one on one with Bernier. He looked like he was channeling his inner Valerie Kamensky by shooting between his legs backwards; he couldn’t get it past Bernier.

With just under 4 left, the puck rolled on Johnson in the offensive zone and Kessel and Panik were off on a 2 on 1 against Hejda. Kessel was flying down the far side and fed Panik who was straight up robbed by Berra. Beautiful save.

The Avs then pinched again and sprung yet another 2 on 1. Berra made a nice save and the Avs eventually smothered the rebound. The play was under review but there was no chance it was a goal. The Avs were definitely pinching but Toronto was taking full advantage of that.  [EDITOR'S NOTE: Toronto's counter attack game seems to be their strategy against better skilled teams. I saw it a few times this year, but it was painfully evident this game]

With just less than 3 minutes to go, the Bozak line started dominating pressure in the Avs’ zone. We finally got to see how the Avs new defense handled this kind of sustained pressure; the Avs were clearly tired but managed to force Toronto to spend their possession outside any dangerous areas. Berra still had to make a few save and Toronto even managed to get a nearly full change on the Avs. The Avs finally had to ice it so Roy called a time out. The Avs were able to get it out and get a partial change. Period over.

NEW DEFENSIVE SYSTEM UPDATE: We got to see a bit more of the new system, but to be fair a lot of that game was so back and forth that there was little sustained pressure from either side. Toronto definitely got the better of it with the multiple odd man rushes but other than that I do like the system a bit – though Toronto had more zone time, they actually had half as many shots. However, some of them were incredibly high quality. The Avs did a good job of keeping them to the outside and the rotation of the system, instead of chasing, created more space for Toronto to move but also more Avs sticks in the way. Two of the biggest flurries still came as result of a shitty clear – that is going trend of course.

The interesting thing is that I thought the Avs defense looked, from 10,000 feet while watching it, weaker and gave Toronto more space but when I focused on what was actually happening, it looked more consistent and more controlling. It’s too soon to really analyze it though, but it’s interesting to see such a stark difference.

Period 3:

It’s hard to recap the first 3 minutes when I was just watching pure, beautiful hockey. After the Avs first two lines looked mediocre, the Mitchell line came out with some amazing possession. After a nice punch, the line had an open net but couldn’t get a stick on it.

The following 5 minutes saw some great action from both side. There were only a few chances that actually looked threatening, as most of the shots were weak. Both teams see to be very cautious. The best chance came from Kessel who fired an off side wrist shot juuuust wide.

After about the 10-minute mark, the Avs began to start attacking from 100 feet. Toronto was clearly looking for just counterattacks and turnovers, but the Avs kept starting from their own zone with time and launching players into the neutral zone. It sure looked like Roy want to manufacture speed as best he could. It seems to work in a lot of ways and it looked methodical.

Duchene’s line came out with 8:30 left. After a nice steal but O’Reilly on the forecheck, the Duchene line started circling. O’Reilly gained possession and tried to feed Duchene in front. The puck bounced back to Duchene who spun around the net for a wrap around and snuck it by Bernier. 3-2 Avs.

After a stupid fucking icing by Guenin, the Avs fourth line had to stay out. Guenin was straight out beat by a pass that launched JVR on a breakaway. Thankfully Berra closed his five-hole to stop JVR. I do not expect to see Guenin when Stuart comes back.

The Avs third line came out, which is playing a lot like a second line, and Everberg almost scored on a nifty redirection in front. As the play continued, Tanguay was hit in the face by the puck and was bleeding everywhere.

Evidently I blinked or something because suddenly there was only 4 minutes left. The MacKinnon line came out and as Landeskog chased down a puck, Polak crushed him into the board. Iginla came to his defense and hit Polak. Everyone was okay. Yay!!!!!

Well less yays. With just over a minute left, Toronto pulled their goalie and started peppering the Avs. Toronto was able to bring the puck back to the high slot and Panik ripped a perfectly placed shot over Berra’s glove.

After a chippy final few seconds, Iginla was hit by Robidas and Iginla did not like it. At all. He dropped the gloves but Robidas refused to go. Robidas will sure throw punches but won’t fight. Both players get roughing penalties though. 4 on 4. Period over.

NEW DEFENSIVE SYSTEM UPDATE: Honestly, I thought the was a better period from the Avs than I expected.  They definitely sat back in the final 4 minutes after Duchene got the lead for them, but Toronto was also pushing hard.  The Avs did not come out flat and definitely pushed the pace to get the go ahead goal. Toronto ended up getting a ton of shots in the 3rd to bring the totals even but this was another example of the Avs sitting back.  Not as bad as before, but still bad.  [EDITOR’S NOTE I am sure MHH is seething right now, but this is why you pull a goalie.  It happens.]


3 on 3 to start the overtime. A harbinger of the NHL to come???? Please???

Anyway, Duchene, O’Reilly, and Barrie to start. MacKinnon looks excited though. Duchene, O’Reilly and Barrie looked like they were playing pond hockey. It was hilarious.

Then Toronto got called on a too many men call so the Avs were headed to the power play. Carlyle was bitching but who the hell knows why.

Johnson, Duchene, MacKinnon and Barrie came out for the 4 on 3. After a nice chance by Barrie, MacKinnon got called on an absolute dog-shit call for goalie interference. What a piece of horseshit. Holy fuck that’s a total joke. From what I saw, Phaneuf knocked MacK into Bernier then Phaneuf helped take out Bernier.

Regardless, the Avs took full control of the OT whether 3v3 or 4v4. The were launching Duchene in the Toronto zone on at least 3 odd man rushes. However, Toronto played a very slow, laid back OT because I do not think Carlyle wanted to go shot for shot with the Avs. It looked like they were keeping it slow and just get into a shootout. After some beautiful chances, the Avs could not connect so we were headed to a shootout.


Avs: MacKinnon. Fake shots, deke, and top corner. GOAL. First career shootout goal.

Leafs: Bozak. Low hard shot glove side. Goal.

Avs: Duchene. Slow and steady and five hole GOAL!

Leafs: JVR. Blocker-side shot and MISS.

Avs: Tanguay. GOAL! GAME OVER.


Three Whores:

Third Whore: Berra. I do not think a single goal was his fault. He may have looked a bit shaky but he also hasn’t played in a while. He came up absolutely huge tonight on some odd man rushes when Toronto jumped on the Avs’ pinches.

Second Whore: Johnson. I don’t think people realize just how good he was tonight. He dominated Kessel on every shift he had against him (he was not on the ice for the goal). He was moving the puck amazingly, taking his time on breakouts, and really slowing down the game.

First Whore: MacKinnon and Duchene. I couldn’t decide between the two. They both looked dynamic all game and each had a point, not surprisingly.

I still need to look at this new system some more, but I can safely say that but for a few flurries in the 2nd and the end of the 3rd, the Avs looked good tonight. I liked what I saw from the defense and I really liked what I saw from the forwards coming back. There were obvious times of miscommunication but the players were talking and directing out there. They’ll need to play some games to get it, but this could be a changing point in the season. Let’s hope.

As well, that game could have been 4 to 0 in the first but for Bernier and some bad breaks. I do like how the Avs kept it together and fought back, took the lead in the 3rd and won it, regardless of how.

Next up: Saturday at Philadelphia.

Additionally, Cole D. Hamilton one of our "esteemed" writer has promised an article justifying the Brad Stuart signings.  We should expect it next week. Link!