Tonight's game was marketed as Nathan MacKinnon vs. Connor McDavid. While McDavid did put on a bit of a show in the second period of this wild game, MacKinnon was frankly too busy getting involved in the emotional side of the game. With MacK busy, enter the league’s top scorer: Mikko Rantanen.
With his assist in the third period, Rantanen became the first player in the league to hit 50 points on the season. He added two more points in the final five minutes during Colorado’s comeback attempt. Rantanen hit this milestone in just 31 games, four more than when Marian Stastny put together 51 points in 27 games back in 1982-83, the franchise record.
Mikko Rantanen with a very solid 52 point season, he should be rewarded with a nice contract this sum— wait what do you mean he has 51 games left to play— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) December 12, 2018
In some lineup notes, Alexander Kerfoot missed the game after suffering an undisclosed injury on Saturday night. Colin Wilson took his spot with AJ Greer and Gabriel Bourque on the fourth line.
The Avs instituted a mob mentlity on Connor McDavid in this game (short of breaking his legs). Every time he was busting in from the perimeter, there would be two or three players on him. Clutching and grabbing and stick-checking — anything to keep the phenom from shooting the puck. He got one good chance early in the period when he caught a giveaway from the half-wall and ripped a shot hard off the post. He had three shots of the nine Edmonton threw at Semyon Varlamov in the first.
Fellow superstar Nathan MacKinnon only had one shot in the period, but that was because he used his teammates to great effect in the first. For instance, seconds after McDavid’s chance off the post, MacKinnon burst up the ice the other way, stopped at the Oilers blueline and sent a bullet pass to Matt Calvert on the other side of the ice. With all the space in the world, he was able to tee up Tyson Barrie in the slot for one of his four shots in the period.
The Avalanche out-played the Oilers for large parts of the first, but it was the Oilers who were lucky enough to come out of the first with the lead. Seven seconds after the Avs had killed an Ian Cole hooking penalty (when he lost a battle to Leon Draitsaitl), Kyle Brodziak was able to find a second rebound at the side of the net, and bank his shot off the inside of Varlamov’s blocker and into the far end of the net.
The first half of the frame was mostly controlled by the Avs. They were doing a great job playing the system and were getting chances as a result. That wasn’t the case in the second half of the period. That’s when things broke down.
0-2, 0-3, 0-4
The beginning of Edmonton’s rampage through the second period started on the power play. With MacKinnon in the box for slashing, McDavid fed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with a cross-ice pass that gave the former first-overall pick a wide open net to slot the puck into. Varly got a piece of it, but it wasn’t enough.
It got worse from there. Less than two minutes later, Barrie served up an egregious giveaway to Milan Lucic of all people. RNH got the puck in the slot, and with all the forwards nowhere to be found, put home his second goal of the game.
Varlamov was pulled at this point. He had given up three goals on 15 shots and it was clear the skaters needed a kick in the pants to shape up. That didn’t happen.
It looked like the Avs had given up on the game at this point and began neglecting their assignments. Assignment #1 being Connor McDavid. Sven Andrighetto made a risky pass accross the ice that got cut off by the Oilers. McDavid was given the puck by Draisaitl and raced away from the pack that was now chasing. Patrik Nemeth didn’t close the gap quick enough, and he had no support around him as all the Avs forwards were all caught deep. McDavid did his thing and put a four-spot on the Avs at home.
It must be said that Mikko Koskinen was playing a great game against the Avs. He was making some big saves — I recall stops on MacKinnon, Barrie, Calvert (twice) — but he made a mistake late in the second that might’ve given the Avs a chance to get back into the game.
Mikko Rantanen was the one to beat him from distance after he confidently pushed to the top of the right circle and blasted a low shot shot off the far crossbar and in. That goal gave the Avs life again, but what happened next was gut-wrenching.
Draisaitl beat all the Avalanche players around him to a loose rebound at the side of the net and scored. Phillipp Grubauer through he had the puck covered and all the Avs around stopped playing. Alas, Draisaitl found the loose biscuit and potted it into the empty net.
I wouldn’t say the Avs need to be bigger and heavier — that would, in fact, be a foolish way to go considering Edmonton’s success that way in recent years — but they do need to be smarter in front of the net and make sure they’re always in the right place and right time (on the right side of the puck, if you will) in order to make clearing the zone easier. These guys ain’t pushovers. They just need to be on the inside so their opponents can’t be.
The power play was a big help for the Avs in this game. They used an early power play drawn by the second line’s great work in the offensive zone to bring the team back within three. From behind the net, Rantanen set up Colin Wilson in the slot for an effective one-timer that beat Koskinen cleanly for his 50th point of the season. All before the holidays!
On a delayed icing call, Andrighetto dangerously drove his opponent into the end boards. It was a dangerous play and an immediate penalty. On the ensuing man-advantage, Darnell Nurse found the top corner of the net after a screened Grubauer missed the puck with his glove.
The play was reviewed for goaltender interference, but it seemed pretty clear that the contact was well before the puck showed up in the area, and therefore didn’t affect Grubauer’s ability to make the save.
Things got heated to another level when MacKinnon and Draisaitl traded slashes away from the play in the Avalanche zone. Not long after, Calvert and Matt Benning got into a spirited fight. At some point after the two were in the box, a pane of the plexi-glass shattered, causing a fairly long cleanup. I’m not a big fighting guy, but here’s the tilt if you’re interested.
With a little more than three minutes left in the third, Rantanen threw another muffin from the point that beat Koskinen on the far side for his 51st point of the season.
Seconds later, he drew an interference penalty on Benning (his third minor penalty of the game). The Avs pulled Grubauer to give them a 6-on-4 power play. It was mad chaos for the entire two minutes, but they were unable to convert on the official power play.
With 1:07 left on the clock and the same Oilers penalty killers on the ice and exhausted, Gabriel Landeskog took a centering pass from Rantanen (again!) and brought his team back within two. And that’s 52 for Mikko.
The Avs pulled Grubauer again and pressed on, but it was ultimately too little too late.
See you Friday night when the Avalanche fly to St. Louis to take on the basement-dwelling Blues. Puck drop is 6:00pm MT and we’ll have full coverage of the game for you right here at MHH.