The Colorado Avalanche ended their road trip with a disappointing performance against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. Tonight, the Avs returned to their winning ways with a 2-1, grind-it-out victory over the Florida Panthers.
Nathan MacKinnon and Semyon Varlamov stole the show in this victory. MacKinnon scored both goals for Colorado, and Varlamov looked incredibly sharp with a 32 save effort.
The Avs have struggled recently opening games, but one could write some of those efforts off as a byproduct of the strength of opponents, or the grind of hockey away from home. Tonight, however, the problem persisted. Colorado didn’t register a shot on goal until the first commercial break, and didn’t see a shot on goal by a forward until the wrong side of the halfway point in the period.
The lone spark for the Avs in the first was a Matt Nieto forechecking effort that led to a Blake Comeau chance in the slot. But Comeau’s stick broke on the attempt, because why wouldn’t it? Colorado failed to capitalize on two power plays, and the opening frame ended scoreless.
Sven Andrighetto and the third line of Nieto-Sodeberg-Comeau opened the second period with a ton of spark and speed. The Sodeberg line did a tremendous job of sustaining offensive pressure, something that was sorely lacking in the first.
Nathan MacKinnon scored his first of the night on a one-timer from a Tyson Barrie feed early in the period. It was the first time in six games that the Avs scored the opening goal.
The MacKinnon goal woke up the crowd, and the Avalanche responded with a great hit by Gabriel Bourque to swing momentum fully in their favor. But a rookie blunder by Sam Girard behind his own net went punished by the league leader in shorthanded goals to tie the game.
The rest of the second period was dominated by speed, but a lack of chances by both sides brought the frame to a close at a goal apiece.
The third line continued their dominance in the third period, creating chances and seeing more ice time. MacKinnon, double-shifting on the fourth line all game, also saw an increase in high-leverage ice time. Early in the third period, MacKinnon had a golden opportunity robbed on the doorstep by James Reimer.
The opportunity was created by wonderful puck pressure by Colin Wilson, but MacKinnon was a little too tight to get the puck over the outstretched glove of Reimer.
But MacKinnon would exact his revenge minutes later, with a tremendous individual effort to win the game for Colorado, out-muscling Aaron Ekblad on the outside for the game winner.
- Nathan MacKinnon is good at hockey.
- Semyon Varlamov was really sharp tonight. There seems to be a real pendulum of mental toughness and mental lapse for Varly. Tonight, we got sharp Varlamov. One moment that stood out for me was late in the third period. The Panthers had sustained pressure in the Avs’ defensive zone, and the next stoppage of play would be the final TV timeout. Varly gloved a weak wrist shot from the blue line, and had a chance to hold it for the whistle. However, he opted to drop the puck behind the net and keep the clock moving. That’s a sign of a confident goaltender.
- I cannot say enough about how important the work of the third line was tonight. The first ten minutes of this hockey game had “Saturday matinee game” written all over it. No jump, no spark, no heart. But the game started to turn with Nieto’s forechecking in the first period, and the speed with which they flew out of the gate in the second set the tone for the rest of the game for the Avs.
- Colin Wilson continued his strong play of late, largely making good decisions on and off the puck.
- Tyson Barrie looked abysmal against the Capitals earlier in the week, and really needed a bounce back game tonight. He made a good pass to MacKinnon for his first goal, which was perfectly weighted and harder than it looked to get on MacK’s forehand. However, Barrie struggled for more of this game than I would have liked to see. His defense was a step in the right direction, but his passing remains a question.
- Sam Girard made a stupid play. It happens. The team was playing with confidence, and he got a bit careless. Move along, people. Nothing to see here.
Gabriel Landeskog looked pretty meh all night. I haven’t really been impressed by any of his play since returning from his suspension for his
attempted murdercross checking of Matthew Tkachuk.
- I will have to Google how to spell Tkachuk every single time I write it until the day I die.
Colorado hosts a pretty darn good Tampa Bay Lightning team on Saturday night. Puck drops at 7:00 Mountain. Let’s go Avs!