The Colorado Avalanche have been arguably the most formidable team in the NHL since the start of March, turning around after a tough two-game stretch against the Arizona Coyotes to kick off the month to roll over every team that’s come in their path since.
The only team not to lose to the Avalanche in regulation through the first half of the month was Arizona — they defeated Colorado 3-2 in their first contest, then took them to overtime in a 2-1 decision the second time around — so if the high-flying Avs were going to face a challenge, it was potentially going to be against the scrappy (if inconsistent) desert dogs.
With that in mind, though, it seems that Colorado took to the ice with the mindset that every line would need to pitch in to keep Arizona from getting the upper hand. And when the dust settled, Jared Bednar’s roster had won their sixth consecutive game in regulation, upending Arizona by a 5-1 final decision.
It was less than a week ago that people were frantically checking for Minnesota’s pulse in a game against the Avalanche, as Colorado took 25 shots on goal in the first period alone.
The game looked far more balanced in the opening frame of Monday’s game, with the Avalanche being held to just eight shots through the first twenty minutes — a marked step towards a more balanced contest from their adversaries hosting the game in Arizona. But while the Coyotes were able to maintain a better game flow this time around, they suffered from a rare bout of poor goaltending from their starter, Antti Raanta. He allowed two goals in the final five minutes of the period, slipping up against first Colorado’s depth scoring and then their formidable top line.
First, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare picked up his third goal of the season thanks to a slip-up from Coyotes defender Jordan Oesterle, taking advantage of the opportunity to walk right into the slot and pick up an easy feed from Matt Calvert:
Mikko Rantanen would follow up with a nifty wrister over Raanta’s other shoulder not long after to double the lead — and while the Coyotes didn’t shrivel and vanish as they have so often against Colorado in the last year, it did dig them into far too deep of a hole to ever really come back and make it a fair fight.
The game stayed at 2-0 for the first half of the second period, despite the Avalanche getting their first power-play opportunity of the game early in the frame thanks to a holding penalty by Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun against Nazem Kadri.
Although the Avalanche wouldn’t manage to capitalize on that opportunity, though, Kadri himself would pad the lead a bit more at the midway point of the period — rifling home his tenth of the season and continuing a trend seen throughout the game of being a major factor for Colorado as he pulled the team to a 3-0 lead:
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) March 23, 2021
The Coyotes wouldn’t manage to be held off the board entirely, though. Ironically enough, they would pull within two goals thanks to Kadri himself — who earned a holding penalty against Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz that resulted in Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson scoring his first goal of the season on the power play.
Ultimately, though, Arizona wouldn’t be able to gain any kind of traction even with their late-game goal. A pair of tallies from Joonas Donskoi in the final three minutes of the game, one on the empty net and one with just eleven seconds to go, would finish the Coyotes off and keep the Avalanche rolling along.
- The Avalanche weren’t ready to toss newcomer Jonas Johansson to the wolves just yet, so to speak, so it was yet another game for Philipp Grubauer — who held his own admirably, but has now appeared in 26 games for the team out of the 30 they’ve played. He’s on pace to make 47 starts for Colorado before the season is up, which would be his highest number ever — and in a shortened season, putting him in the starter’s net for around 85% of the team’s games when he’s never shouldered more than 45% of the load. He made Monday night’s game look almost easy, but at some point the Avalanche are going to want to give him a bit of a break in order to preserve him for the playoffs; while the defense gave him plenty of support, it will be interesting to see how game flow shifts when the team puts someone else into the lineup.
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s game-opening goal was his third of the season, but if it felt a bit like deja vu there’s a reason for that; it was his second goal against Arizona this season, bringing them within one goal of tying for the honor of being the team he’s scored against the most in his career. The veteran fourth-liner has never been particularly renowned for his prolific scoring prowess; he’s only picked up multiple goals against nine teams over the course of his entire career, with Arizona now inching closer to being the one he’s got the best chance of upending. That team he scores so often against, though? The Edmonton Oilers — which almost says more about them than it does about him.
- With his 18th goal of the season Monday night, Mikko Rantanen pulled within one goal of his total from the shortened season last year — which saw him miss substantial time due to injury in addition to the shortened schedule due to the initial emergence of covid-19. He’s on pace to put up around 34 goals this year, which would be a career high. That’s impressive in and of itself, but it’s even more impressive when considering that the season will only be 56 games long; over an 82-game span, Rantanen would be on pace to put up almost 50 goals. The depth has certainly been a key factor for Colorado in being such a monstrous opponent to face — but make no mistake, the continued upward trend for Rantanen has been a major factor as well.
- The Arizona Coyotes are one of the few teams in the league who have been permitting fans from the start of the year, which has meant Avalanche fans travelling from Colorado to view games in person. While everyone has had their own opinions on game attendance, safety, and viability so far this year, it’s been reassuring to see that there haven’t been any major incidents involving visiting fans not wanting to take all the requisite safety precautions to keep Arizona residents safe during what’s been a trying year. Hopefully, everyone reading the recap tonight has been able to stay safe and healthy — so we can all view games together in person, whether at viewing parties or arenas themselves, before too much longer.