“If every game this round looks like last night at 5-on-5 and the Avs can stay out of the penalty box to keep the dangerous St. Louis special teams at bay, the Blues have no shot to win this series.”
Here is what Game 1 looked like at 5-on-5
And here is what Game 2 looked like at 5-on-5
My statement has not been invalidated. Game 2 did not look anything like Game 1. In Game 1, Colorado controlled the entire game from the second period onward, as exemplified by their thirteen to zero shot advantage in eight minutes of overtime. In Game 2, they didn’t get their thirteenth shot on goal until around eight minutes into the second period, and the Blues completely owned the most precious real estate in front of the net on both ends. I don’t need to say it, Nathan Mackinnon already said it for me: “We were really bad tonight.”
Every team at every level of every sport in human history has had an off day. Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles, but because the second round of the playoffs has now replaced the Detroit Red Wings as the Avalanche’s biggest rival, an effort like this is more difficult to write off as simply just a bad day at the office and not part of a larger pattern of taking their foot off the gas after impressive playoff performances. That said, Mackinnon was confident that the Avs can move past a game where they were dominated in the slot as thoroughly as they overwhelmed the Blues at 5-on-5 Tuesday night.
“Years past, we might dwell on it and get down on ourselves and each other,” MacKinnon said. “But we’ve just got to pick each other up and move on.”
Game 2 was like watching a condensed version of Games 3 through 6 against Las Vegas last year. The Avalanche didn’t bring enough juice to the fight and quickly found themselves trudging through a quicksand of their own making. We have all watched this team explode for half-dozen goals in a nanosecond with some regularity this year, but given how Game 2 unfolded, as soon as St. Louis took a 2-0 lead, it felt like the game was out of reach, a feeling that was confirmed by the 4-1 final score.
The Colorado Avalanche are the most talented team in hockey, bar none. Whenever they are operating at peak performance, the consensus around the league is that this is a nearly perfect hockey team. Given how good they are and how the system that Jared Bednar and company have built around them enhances their talents (and the relative weakness of the Western Conference this year), the team most likely to beat the Avalanche before the Stanley Cup Finals is the Avalanche.
This is not to take away credit from the Blues. A subpar performance even by a supposed perfect team is almost surely going to result in that team getting throttled by a battle-tested and hard-nosed squad like St. Louis. It doesn’t matter how good you’re supposed to be when you fail to bring the proper effort against a bunch of men who have been to the mountaintop. The Blues are extremely dangerous and by ceding home ice advantage to them in this series, the Avalanche are now officially playing with fire.
The One Change They Could Make
The Corsi figures at 5-on-5 for the fourth line through the first two games of this series, per Natural Stat Trick, were a little rough.
Andrew Cogliano: 7 shot attempts for, 12 against
Nico Sturm: 6 shot attempts for, 15 against
Darren Helm: 11 shot attempts for, 13 against
Logan O’Connor was a key feature of nearly every Avalanche lineup this season. He has playoff experience and provides some offensive punch and puck moving prowess. The coaching staff clearly trusts Darren Helm to kill penalties, so he likely is etched into the lineup, but O’Connor should replace one of Cogliano or Sturm. The Avalanche obliterated the Blues in Game 1 at 5-on-5 and very reasonably could have won that game 8-2, yet Cogliano and Sturm combined to direct 8 shots towards the Blues net and had 15 fired at Darcy Kuemper while they were on the ice. In Game 2 the 4th line defended much better and basically broke even against their opponents, but Sturm and Cogliano still only combined for 5 shots sent in Jordan Binnington’s direction.
Through two games they have combined for a total of 13 shots directed towards the Blues versus 27 against Kuemper at 5-on-5. The fourth line has basically been either a series of 30-45 second penalty kills or just killing time every time it’s out there. It needs some dynamism, and some dynamism is sitting on the bench likely chomping at the bit to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Given their outstanding Game 1 performance, there’s no reason to press the panic button yet, but because the Vegas series was such a debacle and last night was basically a tl;dr for the Vegas series, Avs fans are justified in reaching for it. It’s better that the Avalanche get this reality check in Game 2 as opposed to Game 4 or 5, and while last night surely leaves a sour taste in their mouth, they know that just two nights prior they deserved to win by a touchdown. They are the better team in this series, they just have to play like it.