Well, it had to fail at some point. Pulling the goalie can’t be a crutch every time, no matter how fun a narrative it may be to tell. But despite the loss, I was really pleased with how this game turned out.
Homecoming king Matt Duchene took some time to find his legs – his first period line was 0-6 in Corsi events despite highly advantageous zonestarts – but when he did, he looked fantastic. He and Ryan O’Reilly easily rekindled their chemistry and powered not only their line, but a resurgent powerplay that came out miles better than Minnesota’s. Hopefully nobody still pays attention to +/-, because O’Reilly had an incredible, resurgent game that I thought wasn’t far off from Zach Parise’s 4-point performance, but finished -1 for sticking out consecutive empty-netters.
The top line’s minuses, on the other hand, were far more deserved. Paul Stastny for one has gotta get his get his get his get his head in the game. His spear to Cody McCormick’s walnuts was the epitome of pointless, dirty, and downright inexplicable. Not only have they been teammates, but if for the sakes of gamesmanship, there are about 50 people whose games would be more valuable to throw off. He may as well have Lucic’d the flipping stick boy for all the good it did.
What a night that was. I could only watch transiently until the start of the 3rd, but that was still plenty of time to run the gamut of emotions from cautious optimism to mounting dread to the best fucking feeling in the world.
Patrick Roy made his adjustments, even shifting the top line to play Nathan MacKinnon with Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn, but for lack of flow or grit or hustle or what have you, tonight’s Avalanche team fell flat right from the start of the game. At even strength, the Wild attempted 12 shots before the Avalanche had their first, and so went the story of the evening. I skipped over to the pub for this match, but no beer goggles could make tonight’s team look good.
Before Game 3, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo tasked Matt Cooke with being a difference-maker, so mission accomplished, I guess. Following his attempt to disintegrate Tyson Barrie’s kneecap, Cooke has been suspended for 7 games, which seems reasonable to me though I’ll confess to hoping for a heftier deterrent for a player who ends more seasons than the summer solstice. It could have been worse – he was headhunting Nathan MacKinnon earlier in the game – but if karma exists at all, that should remove him from the playoffs and his first five games in October.
Tonight’s lead-in was going to gush over how Nathan MacKinnon is going to become a generational, gamebreaking talent in this league, but I quickly backspaced because – surprise, surprise – it’s already happened.
He was electric on a level few can match, all acceleration and power and deception and sheer force of will. After an opening ten minutes controlled by the Wild, he bulled past their entire team for a highlight-reel goal, stealing momentum that the Avalanche never relinquished. No matter who Mike Yeo threw out to contain him, he generated scoring chances like it was as simple as breathing. He was a force of nature, untouchable and transcendent. This was Nathan MacKinnon’s game, and the Wild were just playing in it.
When I wrote my last post here, the Avalanche had a >99% chance of facing the Chicago Blackhawks in their opening playoffs series. As the astute reader may have observed, that is no longer the case. Following a flat-out incroyable 8-0-1 stretch, and buoyed along by an equally impressive collapse by the St. Louis Blues, our boys in burgundy and blue have claimed the division title and instead secured a matchup against the Minnesota Wild.
And boy, do I hate the Minnesota Wild.
Tyler Dellow recently made an excellent and brief explanation of why Corsi matters – success that defies possession metrics is very likely to be unsustainable over a large span of time. Corsi is predictive; although any given season will have outliers, a team that prospers despite bleeding shot attempts is expected to drop off as the bounces stop going their way. Over the long term, a team will be about as strong as their possession numbers indicate, and good teams have started realizing this.
I’ve written about why the Avalanche have been outperforming expectations, but there’s still plenty of evidence that the team is built on ridiculous goaltending and winning an unsustainable percentage of close games. Avalanche fans tend to cite shot quality as a counterpoint (and I’ll delve deeper into this in a future article) but a look at shot location indicates that this is more likely to be a weakness than anything else.
Posted in 2013-14 Season, 2014 Playoffs, Colorado Avalanche
Tagged Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, New York Rangers, NHL, Patrick Roy, Paul Stastny, The Cult of St. Patrick, Unsustainable Goaltending