The Colorado Avalanche’s top line certainly didn’t disappoint. Outside of that, however, there was a lot missing from a team favored by many to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
Philipp Grubauer went down in Game 1 to be replaced by Pavel Francouz, but neither looked like a world-beater. Perhaps more impactful, Erik Johnson went down after a collision, and in spite of trying to return on several occasions, he never made it back into the full rotation. His partner on the third pair, Nikita Zadorov, never gelled with another partner, and the Stars forwards dominated while he was on the ice.
Throw in a second line centered by Nazem Kadri that disappeared for a majority of the game, and you have a recipe for the Stars to be competitive. Add in Dallas scoring goals at the rate they did on Saturday night, and this team can play with anyone.
The headline story was the return of the Big Three. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin got things started on their second shift, and they kept it going for the full 60 minutes.
In the analytics world, quality of competition doesn’t get its due. At a high level, extrapolated over a full season, it doesn’t show up as impactful. This type of analysis doesn’t evaluate game-to-game and series-to-series play.
In the first round against the Calgary Flames, the Big Three took on the Sam Bennett line heads-up. It’s a physical trio, with size on one wing and speed on the other. It was also the only line that drove play for Calgary, especially in Game 1. The Stars’ top line neutralized this threat, tilting the series Dallas’ way — but in doing so, they sacrificed their offense.
Against the Avalanche in Game 1, the Big Three spend much of their time against Kadri’s line. It was a matchup that the Stars dominated. Likewise, Radek Faksa’s checking line was able to match up against Colorado’s top line. They didn’t shut them down, but they did regularly pin them in their own end and limited the damage.
Looking at the defensive matchups, Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak found themselves on the ice for much of the time against Nathan MacKinnon and company. It hurt their baseline metrics, and that added burden meant that their offense took a hit. This played to the benefit of John Klingberg, and ultimately to Taylor Fedun and Andrej Sekera.
Looking at the numbers on Natural Stat Trick, even with Colorado having last change, the ice time and head-to-head numbers look more like what Dallas would want if they were the home team. The Stars had the lead, and that let them roll four lines. Blake Comeau led the forwards at 5-on-5 with 13:49. Corey Perry was last with 10:42. The Avalanche rode their top line hard — MacKinnon pulled 18:19 at 5-on-5 with over 24 all-situation minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, fully one half of Colorado’s forwards logged less than 10 minutes at even-strength.
At this point, Colorado seems to be primarily concerned with what they can do to get contributions out of their bottom six. They all played less than Denis Gurianov, even on a bad day, so Game 2 should show whether ice time limited their contributions or whether their contributions limited their ice time.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Roope Hintz (24) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Anton Khudobin (35)
Colorado Avalanche Lineup
Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Andre Burakovsky (95) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Joonas Donskoi (72)
Tyson Jost (17) - J.T. Compher (37) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Matt Calvert (11) - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) - Matt Nieto (83)
Ryan Graves (27) - Cale Makar (8)
Samuel Girard (49) - Ian Cole (28)
Nikita Zadorov (16) - Conor Timmins (20)
Pavel Francouz (39)
Keys to the Game
Third Pairs. The Stars did a great job of sheltering Sekera and Fedun in Game 1, and they responded with their best game of the playoffs. The Avalanche are likely without Erik Johnson, and whether Timmins or a left-shot defender, the third pair will feature a player making their playoff debut. Dallas dominated when Zadorov was on the ice, regardless of partner.
Score Effects. Game 1 was a classic Stars game. The team got a lead and then were able to limit chances (for both teams). This is a strategy that can work against the Avalanche, but playing catch-up is a different beast and a less effective strategy. This holds true for the whole series — the Stars can’t afford to chase from behind.
Just Play Better. Colorado doesn’t appear to be preparing for anything different. Instead, they intend to do what they do, only better. They can’t do that without the Kadri line stepping up, and maybe getting some contributions from the bottom six. For the Stars, that means rolling lines and keeping up the intensity.