Happy Holidays to all the MHH Faithful! It's that time of year and it looks like you've all been good guys and gals for another year and have already seen a gift of improved Avalanche hockey. In the spirit of the season, I took a look at what has to be in the early running for the "This Ain't Your Old Avalanche" goal of the season. We, of course, are talking about the Dutchy-MacK-Radar connection in the last Oilers game.
We jump into this one as Colorado is breaking out of the defensive zone. Stalwart blueliner Jan Hejda has just chipped the puck up the boards past Edmonton defenseman Nick "Don't Call Me Justin" Schultz (#15). Hejda is pretty much man-to-man with David Perron (#57) as this play starts up. Nail Yakupov (#64) has followed the play from behind the net and Boyd Gordon (#27) is at the top of the zone. Super rookie Nathan MacKinnon and former super rookie Matt Duchene are both in good position to help Hejda clear the zone. Ryan O'Reilly is the last meaningful player in our little drama, just onscreen on the far side of the play. Erik Johnson is over by goalie Semyon Varlamov holding court 'round the crease and neither "factor" into this play. (See what I did there? It's called foreshadowing.)
MacK has gathered the puck and Dutchy has reached second gear. MacKinnon has a small window between Perron and Gordon and slips one of his patented backhand taps to Duchene. Edmonton isn't in that bad of a position here, other than one of their defensemen being caught flat-footed and deep, the center (Gordon) taking an angle to the puck-carrier while ignoring his man (typically the other center, Duchene), and Yakupov having already decided he's out of this play. So maybe "that bad" is a relative term.
As Duchene brings the puck into the neutral zone, Perron makes a feeble attempt at "defense" via a pretty blatant hooking attempt, but he's beat like a rented mule. Edmonton can't even cheat right.
Now is about the time Devan Dubnyk likely starts to clench up. Why? Duchene is hitting top speed with only Edmonton Franchise Savior (v. 2012) Justin "My Name's Not Nick!" Schultz between him and Edmonton's end. Sure, Gordon (#27) has managed to maintain some relevancy, but you'll see in a moment why Dubnyk isn't likely counting on that. Plus, O`Reilly is gutting it out on the far side and the other fastest guy on the team is rapidly filling the void Gordon is creating along the near boards.
By moving more toward the center of the ice, Duchene opens up more room for MacK as it draws Gordon further from the boards. He actually slows a little bit, playing the old rope-a-dope with J. Schultz. Perron is trying to get back in the play, looks over his shoulder at O'Reilly huffin-and-a-puffin' and then completely forgets he exists.
Duchene splits between Schultz and Gordon by employing a shoulder fake to the left and pushing the puck through Gordon's swing-and-a-miss hooking attempt back to the right.
Still, Schultz' momentum leaves him mano e mano with Duchene as Matty retrieves the puck at speed in the lower half of the face-off circle. MacKinnon has continued to follow Duchene's zone entry and has found a lot of open ice to skate in (since Yakupov and the other Schultz couldn't be bothered to get back into the play).
Duchene puts on the hard stop/turn, and J. Schultz is so worried about not pulling a Luiz Mendoza with the hard cut that he can't hang with Matt. (Go ahead, Google it. I'll still be here...) Duchene hears a tap-tap-tappy from MacKinnon who's set up to bring the pain with a one-timer...
...and Gordon has assumed the position anticipating just that. The other Schultz has made it back into the play and is making a run at MacKinnon. Note that in order for him to have gotten back, he would have had to skate PAST Yakupov who had much more momentum coming out of the Avalanche's end.
But it's a fake!! MacK gets Dubnyk down and dishes the pass...
to a wide open...
...and magically delicious Ryan O'Reilly who appears like a mythical creature from seemingly nowhere behind Perron!!
He then employs Duchene's favorite hobby...
Hejda arrives for the celebration as The Can explodes due to the display of skill by the Colorado top line in netting the game-tying goal! That proved to be the goal that got momentum on the Avalanche's side and with the help of a Maxim Talbot shortie a few minutes later, propelled the Avs to a rare December victory.