Avalanche-Knights Game 4 Quick Hits: Top line struggles for third consecutive game – The Denver Post

1. Big line, big dud

The struggles continue in even-strength situations for the Avalanche top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. How can a trio this talented be so invisible and play so much in their zone? Credit Vegas’ top line, centered by Chandler Stephenson, for bottling up the Avs’ top unit and not giving them any open ice or extra time in 5-on-5. Avs coach Jared Bednar said in the St. Louis series he doesn’t think his top line needs to hide from any matchup. Time to scratch that theory. It won’t matter in Game 5 on home ice (Avs have final change), but through double-shifting MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen, Bednar needs to keep them away from the Stephenson line when the series moves back to Vegas for Game 6.

2. Vegas’ depth shining

Do the Avalanche really miss second-line center Nazem Kadri this much? Not offensively — he wasn’t scoring at all when he was suspended for eight games (he won’t be eligible until there is a possible Game 7). But possibly defensively. The Knights’ second line had another strong game. Winger Jonathan Marchessault had a hat trick and center William Karlsson assisted on all three goals. Karlsson and Marchessault both had goals in Game 3. Outside of winger Brandon Saad, the Avs have received very little buzz plays offensively from lines 2-4. The Avs are getting nothing from wingers Andre Burakovsky (no goals in playoffs) and Joonas Donskoi (two goals).

3. Now what for Bednar?

After the Avalanche nearly stole Game 3, but lost 3-2, Bednar unloaded a verbal howitzer on his team about their lack of want-to and probably sent the same message behind closed doors. How did his players respond? Meekly. A few strong first-period shifts. An early lead. But as soon as Vegas took a 2-1 lead early in the second, Game 4 began to look like Games 2-3. No grit. No puck possession to create power plays. No second-period scoring chances. A squandered third-period power play. Bednar doesn’t have many lineup options up front so re-juggling the lines is his best course. In the past three games, Vegas looks like it has the answers to the test. Game 5 is critical for the Avs’ players, but also for Bednar and his staff. Can they make the proper changes?

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