The Dallas-Colorado series is an extremely interesting matchup on paper. On one side, you have the 4th-best offense of the regular season, led by Nathan MacKinnon’s electrifying speed. On the other, you have the Stars stingy defense, who gave up fewer goals per game than anyone but Boston. With the Stars taking the first two games, it seems the immovable object has prevailed over the unstoppable force, and they’ve done it by taking away the Avs’ greatest weapon: their speed.
During the regular season, nobody was more dangerous off the rush than Nathan MacKinnon and co., and it wasn’t even close. They recorded 496 rush chances at even strength, or about 7 per game. Chicago (458) and Vegas (457) were the only two teams to even top 450 and they were still well behind. Unsurprisingly, it’s the same story in terms of goals off the rush, nobody was even in their ballpark.
Colorado had similar success in the first round against Arizona, with 7.6 ES rush chances a night and 5 rush goals in as many games. Now, everybody knew that Dallas was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t expect the Stars to essentially render their speed a non-factor. The Avs have a meager 4 even-strength rush chances total through Games 1 and 2, none of which have led to goals.
The Stars have a simple solution to limiting rush opportunities: just let the opponent cycle the puck in the zone. Once both teams are set in the zone, the speed advantage isn’t as effective as it would be in transition. Dallas then locks down the slot, forcing the opposition to spend a lot of time and energy passing the puck on the periphery, looking for an opening. This is exactly what the Avs are going through. Compared to their series vs Arizona, their possession time and completed passes in the offensive zone has skyrocketed, but their ability to get pucks to the slot has taken a big hit.
Dallas is essentially imposing their playstyle and forcing the Avs to play their game, which has paid off with a 2-0 series lead. If defense really wins championships, the Stars are in a very good spot.