The Colorado Avalanche skated away from their matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights this week more than a little disappointed, falling 7-0 against the ‘underdog’ squad that just can’t seem to stop winning.
Things quickly turned around on Saturday, though, with a decisive 6-3 victory over the still-struggling Chicago Blackhawks.
The Avalanche came out of the gate swinging, and Blackhawks backup Anton Forsberg was far from prepared.
Two goals from Mikko Rantanen and one form Nathan MacKinnon - who earned an assist on Rantanen’s first goal, as well - put the Avs up 3-0 by the end of the first 20 minutes of play, outshooting their opponents by a not-unexpected 13-8 margin.
Things shifted shot-wise in favor of the Blackhawks by the time the game wrapped up, including a 21-5 shot differential in the third and final frame, but the damage was done by seven minutes into the second period. When MacKinnon and Sven Andrighetto picked up two more goals against Forsberg, he was yanked in favor of Corey Crawford - and the Blackhawks would be unable to catch up before the game was through.
In addition to two goals apiece from Rantanen and MacKinnon, Andrighetto’s goal would serve as his fourth of the season, while a third-period tally from the recently-recalled Rocco Grimaldi would give Colorado a massive six goals on just 28 total shots. Even some damage control from Chicago, coming in the form of even-strength goals for Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, and Artem Anisimov, weren’t enough to even the score - and although Chicago pulled their goaltender with three minutes left in the game, things pretty much played out the way they were expected to. Colorado moved to a 6-5-0 record on the season, and Chicago dropped their third straight contest.
The Blackhawks have been consistently outshot this season, and seeing a weak first period from them hasn’t been out of the ordinary as well.
The fact that they didn’t compensate for having backup Forsberg in net hurt them significantly through the early frames of the game. While Forsberg has made strides under coach Jimmy Waite since arriving in the Windy City, he still lacks consistent tracking ability and depth decision-making.
Of course, his sub-optimal performance aren’t what won Colorado the game alone.
Credit given where credit is due, Jonathan Bernier had a monster outing. He faced an insane 42 shots through regulation, stopping 29 of them and denying Chicago on both of their shorthanded attempts. He kept their power-play at horrifically low accuracy, as they’re 1-for-21 on PP attempts through their last five games (and have failed to convert on their last 15 altogether), and he failed to relinquish the lead even when facing 21 shots and an extra attacker for over three minutes during the final period of the game.
Nathan MacKinnon deserves a huge nod, as well.
Watch his effort on the first goal of the game:
There are contributors in hockey, and there are difference-makers - and look no further than this play to spot the difference between the two. While Landeskog is a clear benefit to have on the ice, this goal doesn’t happen if MacKinnon doesn’t drive the play up the ice the way that he does.
There are still incredibly valid questions about his shooting accuracy at the NHL level, but it’s hard to deny the vision that MacKinnon brings to the Avalanche when he’ son the ice.
I’ve had to watch a lot of Chicago Blackhawks hockey this year, for the season-long project I’m doing at The Athletic Chicago.
The outcome of this game, given how they’ve performed all year long, is the farthest thing from surprising. There’s a process as the team develops Forsberg as a reclamation project, a need for adaptation on the blue line from new pieces, and a struggle to replace all that was lost with the departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson (and Marian Hossa, who is on season-long LTIR).
Given that observation, it’s too soon to give a resounding cheer for the outcome provided; Chicago hasn’t been a worthy opponent for a while, and Colorado shouldn’t look at this as a powerful win over a dominant roster. Lindholm needed more help on the blue line, and the fact that Colorado allowed 21 shots in the final frame (and didn’t manage an empty-netter with significant time to do so) shows there are still major areas of improvement to address.
Still, a win is a win - especially after last year. And seeing Rantanen and MacKinnon have such monster outings is always a good thing.