It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or, something like that.
The Colorado Avalanche were flying high when they came back from the Christmas break. After a singular loss to the Arizona Coyotes in the first game back from the holiday freeze, it appeared that the Avalanche couldn’t lose - at all.
After 10 games of two-point finishes, though, the Montreal Canadiens helped bookend the miraculous streak by handing Colorado just their second loss since the break, and things have been on the downturn ever since.
First, it was the Canadiens - then, the St. Louis Blues pulled out a 3-1 victory two days later. Now, despite plenty of rest from the All-Star break, the Avalanche have dropped game number three, falling 4-3 in overtime to the hapless Vancouver Canucks.
This season, Canucks tandem starter Jacob Markstrom has had a nasty habit of allowing the first goal of the game, and usually on a largely preventable shot. He’ll tighten up considerably after that, but it’s been a problem for a while now.
On Tuesday, though, it appears he handed his jinx over to Jonathan Bernier - who has been rock solid for the last month, but allowed two preventable goals in the middle of the first to give Vancouver an early 2-0 lead.
The first goal of the game came six-and-a-half minutes into the frame, when center Bo Horvat beat Bernier cleanly blocker-side on a breakaway:
Horvat isn’t the star of the show this year, but he definitely showed why he’s a key part of the Canucks
retooling rebuild with his lightning-fast release.
It wasn’t all Bernier’s fault; Tyson Jost lost control of the puck in the neutral zone, allowing a turnover, and Nail Yakupov failed to pick up the slack when it became clear the rookie was struggling.
Still, it was as if Bernier didn’t even have time to process that the puck was headed his way; he barely moved until the puck passed him and the goal horn went off, far from the excellent play we’ve seen over the last month.
He’d allow goal number two just minutes later, once again getting beaten cleanly blocker-side after a delayed lateral push to square with Michael Del Zotto’s release left him off angle for the shot.
Nathan MacKinnon has an upper body injury and will not return. And I think I might puke.— Marc Moser (@RadioMoser) January 31, 2018
The Avalanche had themselves a period here, but the team’s inability to ever fully have nice things was in full effect - because despite scoring three back-to-back goals, the biggest story of the period was the loss of Nathan MacKinnon.
The Hart candidate was injured in a collision with Canucks defenseman Alex Edler at the 6:04 mark in the second period.
He was seen holding his shoulder immediately after the collision - and although he initially returned to the bench and remained out by the ice, he left not long after and didn’t return before the game was over.
He managed to earn himself a secondary assist on Compher’s goal to open the period, though, which was a nice reminder of just how good he is. His pass up to Erik Johnson to the left of the slot gave the defenseman an easy shot on net, and Compher was able to slip in practically unnoticed to easily toss in the rebound after Markstrom failed to smother the puck with his glove hand.
The Avalanche would score twice more before the period ended, with Gabriel Landeskog first tying the game up on a dirty goal in front of the crease:
If you want to know what a disaster of a defensive structure looks like, the pair of goals scored by Colorado to kick off the period was a pretty great example of where Vancouver needs to fix things.
Landeskog would score his second of the night on a similarly gritty play in front of Markstrom, who was the rebound king during the middle frame - and with that, the Avalanche found themselves leading for the first time all night heading into the third.
This hasn’t been a great season for the Sedin twins. Heading into the game, Daniel Sedin had just 30 points on the year, and Henrik has just two goals in 50 games; even for a playmaking center, that’s alarmingly low.
Still, they sit third and fourth in scoring on the Canucks this year anyway, which is a reminder; they’re old as dirt by NHL standards, but they’re still better than 80 percent of the guys trying to hack it right now (on legs a decade-plus younger, to boot):
I’ll be perfectly honest with you; I didn’t watch the OT period, because my daughter decided to wake up.
Here is the goal. Anti-climatic - but then again, so is losing in OT to the Vancouver Canucks:
I would give more analysis, but my daughter just woke up, so I’m outie.
Getting beaten by the Vancouver Canucks is almost never a good look. The team, while admittedly making strides this year, still remains a huge question mark in the Pacific Division; they flounder on the back end and have a tendency to let their foot off the gas in the third period (no matter the score, which can be alarming to watch).
They remained offensively inconsistent at even strength, but the Avalanche gave them a few major bursts of possession throughout the periods - and didn’t pull out ahead themselves. Add in that the Canucks got scoring kicked off to begin with, and it wasn’t Colorado’s best game possession-wise.
That being said, it speaks much more to the struggling state of the Canucks than it does to the Avalanche that Colorado had a so-so game, and still ended up on top possession-wise. While this may seem a bit doom and gloom, it’s still nice to remember that even when they do poorly, the Avalanche show that they’ve taken a clear step forward this year; they’re firmly out of the territory of habitually bad teams. They get criticism in this game only because they’ve shown that they’re clearly the better team of these two.
It was imperative not to treat the Canucks’ 10-game win streak as much more than an exciting thank-you gift from the hockey gods after last season, but the team looked good, rather than lucky. That made it hard.
Over their last three games, the opposite has been true. The Canucks are an unmitigated disaster on defense this year and have inconsistent scoring outside of rookie phenom Brock Boeser, so this should have been a much easier game for Colorado. Instead, they struggled in net, giving Vancouver ground while their own back end put up a subpar performance - and they failed to put on the kind of offensive pressure that they’ve shown capable of this year.
Part of that, of course, was the loss of MacKinnon halfway through the game. His influence cannot be understated - and any kind of long-term absence leaves the team with a significant hole moving forward.
Beyond MacKinnon, though, the entire Avalanche roster showed that they’re still very much a young team, a rebuilding team, and could very well miss the playoffs. As they’re struggling, the Chicago Blackhawks took home a big win on Tuesday - as did the Anaheim Ducks, who narrowly edged ahead of Colorado with a 3-1 win.
The Central Division is incredibly tight; if the Avalanche continue losing, they could quickly drop all the ground they gained through the month of January.