In the last game of their second back-to-back this week, the Colorado Avalanche hoped to extend their winning streak to six against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the end, they triumphed — but not without a fight. The Avalanche showed both sides of their personality as they dominated, collapsed, then rallied once more for a 6-3 win.
The Avalanche burst out of the gate on fire, and took it to the Penguins for the majority of the first period.
The relentless pressure didn’t immediately yield success, but paid off midway through the period with a tally from Samuel Girard. The sophomore blue liner made a great spin move to get the puck into the offensive zone, then Mikko Rantanen handled his own rebound after taking the first shot to pass to a wide open Girard — who fired from the slot at 11:19 for the only score of the period.
The second period was far more eventful than the first for both sides. Erik Johnson converted at 5:13 — and although the goal was reviewed for goaltender interference, the call fell in Colorado’s favor to put them up 2-0.
Colin Wilson added the third Avalanche goal two minutes later, scoring off of a fantastic tic-tac-toe passing play with Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Jost at 7:52. At that point, it seemed the home team was going to run away with a victory.
Sidney Crosby had other plans, though, as he scored Pittsburgh’s first goal at 19:08 on a breakaway and second swipe at goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s pads. Jared Bednar unsuccessfully challenged that score for goaltender interference, and Crosby would add another just 42 seconds later on a power play that was both a complete breakdown and a soft goal rolled into one.
The Avalanche took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission, but it was going to be difficult to withstand the Penguins’ momentum in the third period. Crosby would strike again for a natural hat trick just 4:43 in the third frame, tying the game up with plenty of time to spare. It felt eerily similar to the collapse in Calgary a few weeks prior — and when Carl Soderberg took a penalty shortly after, the Penguins were primed to take the lead.
The Crosby hero hour expired, though, and the Avalanche successfully killed the penalty. Gabe Landeskog put the dagger in the Penguins at the midway point in the period, scoring the game-winner when he converted on a deflected pass from MacKinnon.
MacKinnon would add another goal in the empty net, and Soderberg somehow scored yet another goal with just 16 seconds left in the contest to seal the deal. The Avalanche walked away with their sixth straight victory, and now sit just one point behind the division leading Nashville Predators.
The team’s much maligned secondary scoring finally picked up some momentum, as the team managed to score by committee again with goals from Girard, Johnson, Wilson and Soderberg. Girard again stepped up and produced in the absence of Tyson Barrie, who is nursing a lower body injury — but it was still the Nathan MacKinnon show, as he scored four points for his sixth straight multi-point game. He joins Rantanen in the 40 point club now, boasting 41 points on the season and three-quarters of the year left to play.
Rantanen quietly had two points in this contest, and still leads the NHL in scoring with 42.
There isn’t much to complain about with a team currently riding a six-game winning streak — but the reunion of the veteran “shutdown” line, pairing Soderberg with Matt Nieto and Matt Calvert, has provided disappointing (if not altogether surprising) results. On Wednesday, each player of the three posted a sub 24% Corsi For as they went against Evgeni Malkin’s line. Soderberg was much more effective with some talent on his wings, and even Nieto showed some chemistry with Kamenev on the fourth line — so it’s entirely possible the line won’t stay together for long.
The game fully encapsulated where the Avalanche are in their current state. They played the part of a young and talented team trying to learn how to win perfectly, showing that they can dominate at times even when learning to maintain consistency. They showed their lack of experience with the relinquished three-goal lead, letting mistakes quickly compound as the opponent grabbed momentum — so while they won, they still have to figure out how to hold their composure better.
Some inconsistent performances up and down the lineup became lost leads. Grubauer personifies this as much as anyone, as the first two goals he gave up almost cost the team dearly — but he shut the door when it mattered with a couple great saves in the third period. The good news is the Avalanche are winning more than losing as they continue to grow - and it is an ongoing process.
The Avalanche conclude their two-game homestand against the St Louis Blues on Friday, November 30th at 7pm MT.