You can’t stop Nathan MacKinnon, you can only hope to contain him. Despite their best efforts and adjustments, the San Jose Sharks are finding out the hard way that MacKinnon can beat you in a number of areas, as evidenced by his performance in Colorado’s Game 4 win. The Sharks managed to limit the amount of offense MacKinnon was able to generate with his blistering speed, by holding him to just one scoring chance off-the-rush but the Avs power forward still found a way to find the back of the net by banging home a rebound. It was the only goal the Avalanche would need en route to a 3-0 win.
Limiting MacKinnon’s scoring chances in transition doesn’t mean the Sharks have magically found a way to slow MacKinnon down. They have done a good job of slowing him up after he hits the blueline, which I’ll get to in a minute, but MacKinnon’s speed out of his own end and through the neutral zone still poses a serious problem for the Sharks. Last night, MacKinnon skated the puck from his defensive zone into the attacking zone eight times – the highest single-game total of any player in the post-season. That’s not easy to do. Only 28 other players have that many end-to-end carries all playoffs. MacKinnon also finished with the most zone entries and exits he’s had in any playoff game this year.
That said, the Sharks have made adjustments to limit the damage MacKinnon can do once he enters the zone – effectively saying, ‘if someone is going to beat us to the net, it’s not going to be him.’ Before the series started, I did a segment on TSN’s, 7-Eleven That’s Hockey, where I broke down a particular zone entry that MacKinnon favors. Isolating the strong side defenseman to create a mini 2-on-1 at the bluleline, then using his explosive speed off a give-and-go to take the puck to the net. Lots of guys do it but not many do it better than MacKinnon, for obvious reasons. He’s really fast and has great hands. Here’s an example of how he beat the Sharks on such a play during the regular season.
At even-strength, the Sharks have done a good job of sealing the walls and tracking back through the neutral zone. So much so, that MacKinnon doesn’t have a single even-strength entry, like the one shown above, in this series. However, on the powerplay, there have been a bunch of examples of MacKinnon building speed through the neutral zone, slashing at the dot just outside the blueline and using his winger on entries. The Sharks have clearly game-planned for this and often times don’t even bother to play the puck. I’m sure Avs fans will argue a few of the examples below should be interference penalties but, nevertheless the Sharks have limited MacKinnon’s effectiveness on this particular entry type by blanketing guys on him.
Which brings me back to my original point about containing him, which the Sharks have been able to do at certain times, in certain situations. But stopping him, the way he’s going right now, seems pretty much impossible. Even without winger support, MacKinnon can wheel his way into the offensive zone by himself to get the powerplay set up.
MacKinnon, and teammate Mikko Rantanen, are tied for the playoff lead in points with 13. MacKinnon leads the playoffs in shots (48), slot shots (35) and ranks 2nd in zone entries (74). He may not be beating the Sharks end-to-end, like he did the Flames in the first round, but Nathan MacKinnon is still finding plenty of ways to take over games and dominate while he’s on the ice.
Game 5 goes Saturday night in San Jose.
(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)