We all knew this would be a truly epic battle between the defending Stanley Cup Champions and the franchise that has never lost a playoff game in its history, and so far the series has not disappointed.
In game one, the Kraken defeated the Avalanche 3-1 in their first-ever playoff game in a game where Colorado looked frustrated and disconnected for large portions of the game, and Seattle took advantage of that, especially scoring two opportunistic goals off bad Colorado defensive plays.
Know your enemy:
To quickly recap the Avalanche, their big three are C Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen, and D Cale Makar. They have other pieces built around them (some of whom are very good players), but the MacKinnon/Rantanen line is the line that does most of the damage, and indeed the only Colorado goal in game was a Rantanen goal with a primary assist from Macinnon. They do not have the forward depth the Kraken have, when their third/fourth line and third D pair are out there on the ice, they are mostly trying to bide time and grind out minutes until their big horses can get back out there.
MacKinnon is maybe the best player in the world after Connor McDavid and sometimes he hits a mode where he’s like “nothing in the world can stop me from scoring this goal.”
Colorado is a very fast team and they like to create their offense off the rush/in transition. No team is more active in having their defensemen jump up into the play, and they have some talented ones in Devon Toews, Bowen Byram, and Sam Girard.
The goal song:
The Avalanche were voted worst goal song in the NHL by The Athletic($) although I think that is probably a little harsh, especially since the San Jose Sharks still exist in this universe. (Seattle’s was voted best, which is correct.) Colorado’s goal song does have an interesting DNA behind it.
It starts with “Alla luce del giorno” as written in the Italian movie “Metti, una sera a cena” by legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. If you don’t recognize the name, you probably do recognize some of his truly iconic works, like the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or The Ecstasy of Gold from the same movie.
In 2000, Planet Funk used the theme on their debut album with their single Chase the Sun. But it’s still not very goal-songy. It lacks the upbeat punch and there’s no crowd participation portion. But when Sky Sports in the U.K. started using it for darts coverage, they added the crowd part and an “oy oy oy!”
It would lay dormant as a goal song idea until…
The San Jose Sharks changed their goal song, and put it up to a fan vote. One of the suggested votes was “Dup Dup” by Mickie Krause, also using the same melody from the Morricone. And this time, it does work as a goal song.
Then in 2017, with the idea still available because Sharks fans have all the imagination of something that doesn’t have very much of it, the Avalanche used the darts version but with “hey hey hey!” instead of “oy oy oy!”, and thus we have the Avalanche goal song.
Is it among the best goal songs? No. But it does have an interesting history and it’s got a lot more going on with it than just a lazy vehicle to get people to say “hey” in unison.
It’s lazy vehicle to get people to say “hey” in unison with a backstory.
Playoff series are about matchups and matchup adjustments, and the Avalanche are one of the few teams in the NHL I think have a front office and coaching staff as analytically-minded and as smart as the Kraken. This is a chess match, and expect the Avalanche to make some changes before the second game.
Seattle won game one by having an excellent gameplan and executing it. The Kraken are one of the best teams in the NHL at limiting offense off the rush, which is where the Avalanche like to do their damage, and they held Colorado’s top line of Rodrigues-MacKinnon-Rantanen to a little worse than a draw.
It wasn’t all the Gourde line doing impressive things against MacKinnon, though. In the third period, Matty Beniers was out there against MacKinnon’s line and I gasped when I saw this:
Matty’s going to win the Calder (rookie of the year) because voters will look at his offensive numbers, but he’s also already just so good defensively. Friends, it is extremely rare to see anyone stay with Nathan MacKinnon like that, let alone a 20-year-old. And we’ve seen him play heady defense all season. That is a huge weapon for the Kraken’s ability to execute the gameplan of “play the top line as close to a stalemate as possible and rely on forward depth and goaltending.”
Now, there is a tendency to make it all either “our team played great!” or “our team played bad!” when the truth usually lies somewhere in between, and that’s certainly the case here. The Kraken did what they had to do to match Colorado, and they did so excellently.
But Colorado is a better team than what we saw on Tuesday. Some of it I’m sure is players coming back from injury and getting acclimated. Cale Makar typically is not good his first game back after injury, and he was good on Tuesday but he was not Cale Makar: destroyer of worlds. Last year’s Norris winner, Makar is the most talented defenseman since Bobby Orr, and we should expect him to be better tonight as he gets back into game shape.
However, there is the other side to this: players are not healthy this time of year and are often not close to 100%. And since NHL teams are so secretive about injuries, it’s possible that some of these players are just lesser versions of themselves than they usually would be.
- For example, I think Avalanche winger Valeri Nichushkin is a candidate to fall into this category based on the way he’s playing and the way he’s moving.
- Defenseman Josh Manson looked awful — how much is that rust because he hasn’t played since March 1st, and how much of that is that he’s returning for game one of the playoffs and probably isn’t completely healed from whatever it is that kept him out? Especially because he plays a more physical style.
- Johnson or Johnson? D Erik Johnson was announced a healthy scratch in favor of Jack Johnson, but Jack was injured in warmups apparently, so Erik was put in at the last second. He’s the longest-tenured Avalanche player, but he’s very slow now and is often out of position. The alternative is Jack Johnson, who is also very bad. With Seattle’s forward depth, this is a matchup they can look to exploit no matter which Johnson is out there.
It’s really hard to build a roster the way the Kraken have built it because of the way the salary cap works — it could only really happen through an expansion draft, and specifically the pretty unorthodox approach to the expansion draft. So it’s hard to evaluate the Kraken because there really hasn’t been a team like this before, and I think that results in them being underestimated.
And if the superstars go sicko mode, there’s just nothing anyone can do about it. That’s just how generational talents work in sports, and the Avalanche have two of them. And if that happens, the Kraken are probably going to lose.
But if they don’t, if a bounce goes Seattle’s way here or there, having a good game plan on top of that — and on top of putting the onus on the superstars to perform — the Kraken at least are giving themselves a real chance to win this.
And no matter what, we get to experience Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, the greatest thing in sports. Sit back and enjoy the extraordinarily stressful ride.