so guess what i did on saturday? that's right! i watched ice hockey on tivo (TV with fastforwarded commercials). san jose sharks vs colorado avalanche (i live near san jose, FYI).
anyway, to understand the avalanche, try this statement, "their whole entire team is made up of stars." it sounds odd at first. but they have far more stars than any other team. maybe not actually 4 offensive lines full, but more than 2 (you get 20 players per game, usually 4 groups of 3 forwards, 3 groups of 2 defenders, and 2 goalies. the groups are called lines.) (and if your coach likes, you can keep the 4th line almost entirely off the ice)
colorado simply has significantly more individual skill than any other team out there. btw for this game colorado was missing it's best player, but the sharks were missing three(!). (top scorer, a second center forward, and a defender)
when you watch the game, you can see the insane skill by colorado players. they get the advantage in most 1 on 1 skirmishes. they make space for themselves in the offensive zone sooooo well. they all shoot like gods. they're fast and deadly on a breakaway. etc etc
the sharks are fast too, but honestly most of their team does not have a brilliant shot. sure they can shoot it hard at the net, and pretty much anyone in the NHL can hit the corners if there's no one in the way, but they aren't nearly as dangerous as the colorado players. if a colorado guy gets a few moments alone with the puck in the offensive zone, you're in big trouble. if it's near the net, expect a goal. most shark players will do something useful, but...
most of the shark offensive players won't even try to screw around by themselves. they usually don't make space, they just pass it off to someone else.
hum, digression. if you skate fast, the defender will back up quickly (hockey players skate backwards almost as fast as they skate forwards). if you try to go past him, he will get in front of you but to the center of the ice, and push you to the outside away from the goal. if you stop, he'll stop, and then he'll come forward into you. but you have a few moments after you stop before he can get to you, which is space. the other main way to get space is to pass it, move away from your defender, then get it passed back to you. but there's another way, and it's called insane individual skill. if you can threaten to skate somewhere important enough, the defender will have to worry about that, and you can get some space elsewhere. if you're good enough with the puck, and fast enough, you can try to avoid the defender when he comes for you, and get away (it's generally hard to skate near someone and keep the puck on your stick, cause they just hit your stick with theirs, and off it goes. you have to dodge their stick with not just the puck, but also your stick. this usually requires letting the puck off your stick a while, but then you have to worry about it hitting a skate, getting away from you, or you not being able to chase after it b/c the defender runs into you)
so what advantages did the sharks have? well, their goalie was totally Player of the Game (the backup goalie played, too! sharks have the best goalie coach around, and ended up with lots of top quality goalies (they traded some off too)) and the sharks were a bit more unified as a team, especially on defense. ok sure the avalanche could make space, pass all around the shark's zone, and score if they got a moment alone in front of the net. but they never got a moment alone anywhere. ever. there was no missed coverage (there were, *ahem*, a pair of 2-on-1 breaks though).
in a 2-on-1 the defender guards the pass, and the goalie deals with the shot. so our goalie rocked them, and that was that :-)
so anyhow, it's great fun to watch all these super skilled players going around, with the amazing ability to keep the puck for long periods of time even in the offensive zone, but everywhere they go, a shark follows, maybe not quick enough to steal the puck or even check the guy (run into him and knock him away from puck, or at least stop him from skating around by pinning him to the boards (edge of rink)). and eventually our teamwork would keep them from getting anything too dangerous, and we'd get the puck.
the avalanche scored once. a defender shot it from far away, and there were a bunch of guys in front of our goalie, so he never saw the shot coming. the sharks scored twice, both times off turnovers by the avalanche in their defensive zone (the sharks didn't do that). and that was that.
update: here is a game summary