The Avalanche pulled out a win in a gritty, gut-check type of game to earn their first points in exactly two weeks time.
It was not a pretty one and the team continued to look lost after their almost two-week hiatus due to COVID issues, but the good guys got back into the win column with a 3-2 decision and split two of four games against the Golden Knights.
Cale Makar was on the ice for pregame warmups presumably to test out his upper body injury, but he did not end up playing which signals he wasn’t quite ready to go for this contest.
The Avs’ first shift was perhaps one of their better ones of the game. From there, the team seem disjointed and lost out on the ice. This was especially evident by not only squandering three power play chances in the opening frame, but there was absolutely no sustained pressure on any of the man advantage opportunities as the team just could not find a rhythm and get set in the Vegas zone. Both power play units are sorely missing their respective quarterbacks in Cale Makar and Samuel Girard.
The ice was broken at the 7:08 mark of the first, however, when Mikko Rantanen fed a pass to a speeding Nathan MacKinnon, who rocketed a one-timer from the slot to beat Marc-Andre Fleury stick-side to give the Avs a 1-0 lead.
Aside from the lone goal, both teams were deadlocked in a sloppy opening stanza.
Vegas came out with lots of pressure in the second period and the Avs were on their toes early and often. If it were not for Philipp Grubauer, the Avs could have been down by a bunch halfway through the second.
The Knights were finally able to cash in on their continued pressure in the offensive zone as Avalanche defenseman Jacob MacDonald was sent to the box for tripping. Vegas wasted little time as just 31 seconds into their first man advantage of the evening, Max Pacioretty sniped a shot high to the glove-side on Grubauer and just like that the game was tied a one apiece.
The Knights’ lead did not last long, however, as less than a minute later Brandon Saad walked the goal line on a beautiful feed from Joonas Donskoi and tucked the disc home between Fleury’s pillows to regain the lead for the Avs.
From there, Vegas continued their pressure and had multiple opportunities to close out the second frame. Philipp Grubauer absolutely robbed Alex Pietrangelo with the glove when the Vegas defenseman was found wide open in the slot late in the second frame.
Despite killing off an early Sheldon Dries penalty, the Vegas onslaught from the second spilled over into the third as the Avs continued to struggle figuring themselves out.
Vegas took advantage of a crazy, goalmouth scramble that found Grubauer flat on his stomach in the crease and around six players fighting for the puck. The loose change found its way out of the dogpile in the blue paint and right to the stick of Jonathan Marchessault who lifted a backhander above all of the mayhem and into the net to tie the game at two apiece.
The Avalanche picked up their game in the latter stages of the game as Coach Bednar shuffled the first two lines and elevated Andre Burakovsky to the first line. The sustained pressure in the Vegas zone in the final five to six minutes lead by the new look first line paid dividends.
Nazem Kadri came up big with just about 40 seconds left in the final frame when he picked up a loose rebound off of a point shot from defenseman Bowen Byram and roofed the game winner past Fleury.
This was probably the most important game of the season thus far, not only because a loss would’ve meant an eight-point hole behind Vegas in the standings, but was also key for this team to finally get their legs underneath them after exactly two weeks between wins.
Grubauer was absolutely stellar again and continues to be the team’s MVP. Brandon Saad has a plus three rating on the evening and had two points (one goal, one assist) as he continues to be this team’s quiet assassin.
As mentioned previously, the team was zero-of-three on power play for the night. They were also 50% on the penalty kill going one-for-two. However, despite the power play goal against, this team remains in first position in the league in penalty kill percentage.
After two games back and the struggles on both the man advantage and at five-on-five, its evident that the team is sorely missing both Makar and Girard’s on-ice vision and play-making abilities. Let’s hope the team can welcome Makar back into the fold for Saturday’s game and Girard shortly thereafter.
Finally, a unique stat to be aware of is that on the season, the Avalanche have utilized a league-high 11 different defenseman and are leading the league in total defense. This is remarkable and will seemingly only get better once the team is fully healthy.
Saturday against Vegas again which counts as matchup three of four straight against this Golden Knights squad. However, this time it’s outdoors at Lake Tahoe and will be the first game the Avs debut their Reverse Retro jerseys. Puck drop is scheduled for 1:00 PM MT on NBC.