Sunday night was Game 1 for the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights, and if you’re an Avs fan, you couldn’t ask for a better performance from the team. Vegas had a quick turnaround after going to Game 7 Friday night against the Minnesota Wild. While the Avs have been off for a while after sweeping the St. Louis Blues.
The Avs had a dominant showing with a 7-1 win, showing no slowing down from start to finish. Vegas had a nightmare game and resorted to getting chippy with things, which didn’t help matters much.
Heading into the game, a surprise was Robin Lehner getting the start. Marc-Andre Fleury was lights out through seven against the Wild, and one would have thought they would keep that momentum. Instead, they went with Lehner, who is no slouch of his own.
The Avalanche came out flying, as it took nine minutes for the Golden Knights to record their first shot. Just five minutes in, Devon Toews intercepted a puck and went all the way down to the other end. He dished a pass to Mikko Rantanen who snapped a backhand in and made it 1-0 early.
Six minutes later, captain Gabriel Landeskog snaps one home on a beautiful pass from Cale Makar and it was 2-0.
After this, it continued to be all Avs as they really controlled play through the first period. It really did look like a rested vs tired team to start, which is understandable. The Golden Knights were on their heels for the majority of the time and the Avalanche continued to wear them down using speed, skill, and the body.
The Knights made a late push with three minutes left in the first or so, but Phillip Grubauer stood strong, like has done so often this season. The shots would be 14-8 and 5v5 shot attempts 23-12 for the Avs after 20.
The second period was much like the first and started the exact same way. Brandon Saad would get the bouncing puck and bury it past Lehner to make it 3-0 just 64 seconds into the period.
Three minutes later, Nathan MacKinnon would find his way into the goal column. His shot goes through the five-hole of Lehner, one that Lehner likely wants back. This goal highlights the perfect puck movement the Avs that we got to see all game long. This would make it 4-0.
Halfway through the period, Ryan Graves absolutely laid out Mattias Janmark in the corner, who was not looking his way. Janmark immediately went down and left the game holding his head. Graves was given two minutes for interference, but that was just the start. Things got more chippy after that as there were hits, scrums, and more every shift.
More puck movement on the power play leads to an absolutely beautiful goal to make it 5-0 with five minutes left. Seriously, this is one of the best goals you will get to see.
Vegas finally stopped the domination just a minute later as Max Pacioretty walked out front and fed an open William Karlsson to make it 5-1. However, the Avs would quickly reclaim the five-goal lead as MacKinnon takes it in by himself and goes top shelf to make it 6-1.
This would wrap up an insanely busy period of hockey that put the Avs in a very comfortable spot. The shots were 13-9 and the 5v5 shot attempts were 11-10 in favour of Colorado.
Max Pacioretty caught Sam Girard up high five minutes into the third and that sent him straight to the room. It was more of a reactionary play but it was a shoulder right to the head, which the refs originally called a double-minor for high-sticking. This would be reviewed and changed to no call at all because it wasn’t actually the stick that hit him. A questionable rule, to say the least.
It would continue to get worse as Ryan Reaves would start a mini line brawl halfway through the period when he threw Graves directly to the ice after giving Grubauer a shot. Graves would also go straight to the room as Reaves would be tossed out of the game. There seems like a good chance the department of player safety may look over this one again too. Reaves received a game misconduct, a five-minute match penalty for an attempt to injure, as well as two roughing calls leading to a staggering nine-minute power-play opportunity for Colorado. Graves would also return to the game.
With 4:11 left in the period and about a minute left in the power play, Makar would blast a one-timer from the top of the circle. Absolutely no chance for Lehner on this one. That’s how this one would end, too. A dominating 7-1 win that got ugly at the end.
The Avs were the better team from the start to finish. Just pure domination of a Vegas team that was clearly tired. Colorado should expect a much stronger effort going forward, or this one will be over quickly. That was not the Vegas team we have seen for most the season and it is unlikely they will continue that play Wednesday.
However, it will be interesting to see if anyone gets suspended, especially Reaves. The Avs did a fairly good job not falling into the Golden Knights trap of retaliating from some pretty bad hits and scrums. A nine-minute PP also did a lot to help with that. We can only hope everyone is healthy and the same goes for Janmark who took the huge hit early in the game.
The top line for the Avs was as advertised tonight. MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen all had goals and they looked unstoppable. Mark Stone and his line will need to step it up if Vegas wants a chance going forward.
Grubauer wasn’t tested a ton but he looked really good when he was needed. That isn’t anything new though as he has been a steady and solid goalie all year for the Avs. The game tonight wasn’t Lehner’s fault but it is probably Fleury’s net from here on out as he deserves it. It will be interesting to see if the Knights come out with a stronger response next game.