Saturday afternoon’s Outdoor Game was truly a sight to behold. Leaving the actual hockey game out of it, the setting was picturesque, with Lake Tahoe providing great backdrops between the snow, mountains, trees, and water. If you’ve never been, Lake Tahoe is pure beauty just outside the filth that is Reno, Nevada.
While the location – 15 feet from the water – provided beautiful aesthetics, it did come into play as far as the game play was concerned. Both goalies had new, bright vision impairments to battle through, while skaters were forced to play through the glare of the sun and the ice. Even then, the juice was worth the squeeze and it set a great example for how to pull off this type of event. I’ll never be able to watch a winter classic in a football/baseball stadium again.
Now, for the game.
Colorado pushed the pace of play from the opening faceoff, clearly establishing themselves as the sharper of the two teams. They were quicker on pucks, had more sustained offensive zone time, and had the Golden Knights on their heels. A bad matchup presented itself for the Golden Knights and the Avalanche capitalized.
With the Golden Knights’ fourth line of William Carrier, Nicolas Roy, and Ryan Reaves on the ice, the Avalanche’s top line went to work. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, the two most skilled players on the Avalanche, did good work on the forecheck and created a quick zone exit. The two played give-and-go before MacKinnon found Samuel Girard open cross-ice for the first goal of the game.
Girard’s goal at 2:58 of the period, was his second of the season, coming in his first period back in the Avalanche lineup. The offensively gifted defenseman hadn’t appeared in a game since February 2 against the Minnesota Wild. He partners with Cale Makar on the top defense pair and came into the game with a goal and eight assists, in just 11 games.
With five minutes left in the opening period, the Golden Knights’ captain Mark Stone took a high sticking double minor, trying to chase down Rantanen. A few big stops by Marc-Andre Fleury and a solid shift from the Reilly Smith-William Karlsson duo were the highlight of the PK, before it became a 5-on-3 due to a Too Many Men on the Ice call. The Golden Knights made it to the intermission, with :03 left on the Avalanche two-man advantage.
At the end of the first period, the Avalanche had a whopping 10-shot lead (17-7). With the Avalanche pressuring for most of the 20 minutes, the stellar play of Fleury got the “visitors” into the locker room only down one goal. His renaissance season seems to be continuing.
Natural Stat Trick’s Corsi Gameflow Chart
After a period of players (and officials) falling on their faces, the league knew they had to address the ice surface. An intermission scrum between the officials, Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Landeskog preceded the long walk back to the locker room and an even longer delay in action to work on the ice. A decision to push the game to later in the day or Sunday was now in play.
Eventually the NHL decided to postpone the game until 9PM Pacific time, a decision that all but alienated the east coast viewers. The eight-hour delay was worth it, as the players returned to better ice and their approval was noticeable.
A quick, successful penalty kill kicked off the restart. Three minutes later, they were forced to kill another penalty. This time a William Carrier batted puck found its way over the glass for a Delay of Game. Another successful kill led the Golden Knights to a reward.
Despite the onslaught from the Avalanche, the Golden Knights were able to make the game 1-1, on the back of great goaltending by Fleury. Alec Martinez, who was brought in last season for his veteran presence and offense from the blue line, scored the first goal of the game for the Golden Knights.
Martinez smartly snuck down on the back side, finding an Alex Pietrangelo rebound, for an easy goal. Jonathan Marchessault and Devon Toews were all over Philip Grubauer on the play, but it was deemed clean and the goal stood. The goal came on the ninth shot of the game for the Golden Knights and nine hours after the Girard tally.
A solid shift from the fourth line helped swing momentum toward Vegas. A big and questionable hit from Carrier shook up the Avalanche captain and Landeskog had words for the winger both during and after that shift. Carrier’s elbow did come up high, catching Landeskog in the face. The refs missed it and the Golden Knights celebrated less than a minute later.
Their celebration was short-lived, as the Avalanche got back to work and quickly regained their one-goal lead. Chandler Stephenson took a frustration penalty, with a strong cross-check to the back of Tyson Jost, knocking him to the ice. Jost was also guilty of interference, thwarting Stephenson’s chance in transition and thus Stephenson was visibly frustrated. Good chances were few and far between.
Both clubs have the personnel for 4-on-4 hockey. There is tons of speed and skill to go around, but the fastest skater for Vegas was stuck in the box. MacKinnon took the puck coast-to-coast, avoiding both Stone and Pietrangelo before firing a wrist shot past Fleury. That’s not a guy you want with the puck on his stick and he torched a goalie on his A-game to the far side with a ridiculous wrist shot, just :33 into the penalties.
Joonas Donskoi thought he made the game 3-1 at 16:15 of the second, but a penalty for goaltender interference was called by the official at center ice. Fleury came far out of his net to make a play as Donskoi was working through the slot for the loose puck. Donskoi tripped over the outstretched pad of Fleury, fell, regained the puck, and put it in the open net.
If anything, incidental contact should’ve been called, as Fleury had just as much to do with the collision as Donskoi. Fleury was well out of his crease and his aggressiveness led to the collision as much as Donskoi working for a loose puck. An Alex Tuch goalie interference call prematurely ended the Power Play. Tuch was pushed into Grubauer by Girard and it seemed to be a make up call.
A chippy end to the second period finally came and the Golden Knights came out for the final period with a :09 Power Play. Trailing one goal, they quickly went back to the man advantage when Nazem Kadri and Cale Makar took penalties :38 apart, two minutes into the period.
As aggressive as the Golden Knights are, the 5-on-3 PP shift was far too timid. Multiple willing passers, with a reluctance to shoot. They let the golden opportunity fall by the wayside, leaving themselves some work to do. A quiet 10 minutes passed before Toews put one behind Fleury, making the score 3-1. Toews identified a ton of traffic out front and Fleury never saw the shot.
Down, but not out, Vegas got the goal back in just 1:14. Tuch scored a highlight-reel goal from his office at the top of the Colorado crease. He received a pass from Zach Whitecloud, spun to his backhand, and lifted the tight backhander over Grubauer. Watch it in all its glory below.
Unfortunately for Vegas, they were unable to capitalize on the big moment and parlay it into a tying goal. Losing to the Colorado Avalanche is nothing to be ashamed of and these two teams will continue to battle with each other and the St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the West Division. They’ll have a chance to even this four-game series on Monday in Denver.
Another great effort from Fleury goes down in the books. He has been stellar this season, both splitting time with Robin Lehner and carrying the load, while Lehner has been unavailable. As good as he has been, a healthy Lehner is important to the team and maybe more so, Fleury. He can’t be expected to play every game for much longer.
Another big performance came from Martinez. He’s been a bit inconsistent since his arrival in Vegas, but he has shown flashes of what he can offer in all three zones. In this outdoor game, he had it all working and was a big reason the Golden Knights stayed in the game. Neither man was named a Star of the Game, but they both were worthy of one.
These outdoor games are supposed to be a spectacle. This one was that and more. We had a noon (PST) puck drop that ended roughly 11 hours later. The backdrop of the game was insanely beautiful. We may never see this type of setting again. Tomorrow's Flyers-Bruins game has been pushed back to a 4:30 PST start, in hopes of avoiding the ice issues. Be sure to tune in and enjoy this amazing event!
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