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.
The loss of Tyson Barrie weighed heavier than expected; the Wild employed a well-executed neutral zone trap made all the more effective knowing the Avalanche were short on puck-moving defensemen. Ryan Wilson drew in to replace Barrie and partnered with Nate Guenin to be completely demolished despite by far the most sheltered zonestarts and competition on the team. Neither is anywhere approaching an NHL-calibre rearguards right now, and I’m anticipating Stefan Elliott will replace Wilson on Saturday.
Other quick hits: P-A Parenteau hasn’t produced much, but it’s harder to blame him in a game where he was the team’s primary defensive stopper, a role he isn’t suited to and shouldn’t have to play. Still, his line just hasn’t worked and Roy needs to find him a spark rather than assign his roster spot by default. Erik Johnson also needs to improve his offensive awareness – he made 9 shot attempts (5 more than any teammate) and a whopping 6 were blocked (the Wild only blocked 5 from his teammates, total). It felt like even more in those last key seconds playing 6-on-4, with one Wild forward missing his stick, and Johnson still blasting away at shinguards. If he feels responsible for replacing Barrie’s offense, this is not its best execution.
I think tonight has brought over a shroud of defeatism – the sort where you console yourself with the fortune of even being in the playoffs after last year’s 29th-place finish. It’s only two losses, but they’ve been so lopsided that the #whynotus attitude that brought them here is fast evaporating. The Wild are hardly a possession juggernaut, but a 33-9 Fenwick Close advantage (while leading the entire game!) is about as close to total, 60-minute control of a game as exists above the midget level. If Minnesota can eliminate score effects to that extent, it means Yeo has his roster playing extremely disciplined and motivated hockey, and the Avs need to find that same playoff gear.
This is roughly the same team that won Games 1 and 2 and fify-two more this season, but the difficulty here is that the Avalanche have won plenty of games of this ilk and didn’t seem so lifeless even when outplayed by the same margin. Darcy Kuemper and his boyish good looks haven’t been tested, the power play remains impotent, and a team that should have rebounded from a lackluster Game 3 has dipped even further.
I can’t tell if they’ve bought into their own hype – waiting for that stunning comeback after the goalie pull or what have you – but maybe it’s a question of desperation. One team walked into the arena with the will to win. The other will have plenty of questions as they fly home for Game 5.