An untimely penalty doomed the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks won in overtime, 3-2, for their second win over the Avs in a span of eight days.
The captain, Gabriel Landeskog, collided with Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy behind the net with just over a minute remaining in regulation. Landeskog’s stick caught Murphy on the lip and drew blood, warranting a four-minute double-minor, effectively a death sentence at that junction of the game.
The shorthanded Avalanche drew the game into overtime, but couldn’t kill the duration of the penalty. Blackhawks star Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the night to leave Denver with another victory, Chicago’s fifth in six games.
Colorado Avalanche: To panic, or not to panic?
With the loss, Colorado’s record this season dropped to 19-13-7.
19 wins and 20 losses. That’s a losing record.
Colorado has lost eight of their last 10 games, including six losses to current non-playoff teams: the Blackhawks (twice!), Blues, Coyotes, Stars, and Islanders.
At the start of December, the Avalanche were very safely in playoff position in the Central Division. I don’t suggest checking the standings right now.
The team is slamming the panic button, evidenced by head coach Jared Bednar did the unthinkable prior to Friday’s game. He broke up the lauded top-line, putting Matt Nieto on the left wing next to Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. With the recent stretch, why not throw some blind darts at a wall.
The Grand First Line Matt Nieto experiment lasted about 20 minutes.
Colorado fell behind 2-0 in the first period and was visibly outplayed; the team wasn’t winning battles in front of the net, and no line was able to control sustained offensive pressure. Rantanen notched his 17th goal of the season on a nice snipe, but the five-on-five play was pretty uninspired.
At the start of the second period, Landeskog was back on the top line and the Avalanche seemed to be playing with effort and purpose. MacKinnon played like a game-changer — seven shots on goal in the game! — and Colorado tilted the ice with a surge. On a delayed penalty, the All-Star stepped as the extra attacker and slapped in a point shot past Collin Delia to tie up the hockey game.
Into the third, the Avalanche had more strong chances — a couple pucks from MacKinnon, a laser from J.T. Compher — but no results.
Midway through the frame, Matt Calvert and Carl Soderberg took a pair of penalties and Colorado had to kill 1:22 worth of 5-on-3 power play time. They did. Patrik Nemeth had a gutty shot block, a stickless Gabriel Bourque forced a turnover with his feet, and Landeskog cleared the zone in front of a buzzing Pepsi Center sellout.
It seemed like all the momentum would turn into something tangible ... a goal, a win ... anything to escape this team from its seemingly irreversible funk, but it never did.
The Avalanche failed to score during the rest of the period, then Landeskog took a double-minor on a play that, while a legitimate penalty, came on an unfortunate collision where both players were flailing their limbs and sticks at one another.
While some recent losses perhaps could have been attributed to lack of effort, that really wasn’t the case on Saturday. Colorado’s skaters are playing *pissed off* and the results still aren’t coming. Maybe the concerns are right: can a team really contend in the West when the fourth best forward is J.T. Compher?
The Avalanche are at an impasse, and it’s unclear how to proceed. That should be worrisome.
Chicago Blackhawks: Let’s talk about that Toews high-stick
The Blackhawks have played respectable hockey for the last couple weeks. Delia has been a revelation in net, putting up another gem tonight against Colorado. Alex DeBrincat is emerging into a pesty star (he reminds me of Mats Zuccarello). Even Duncan Keith seems to be playing like a younger version of himself. Seriously, he was an elite defender in this game.
But how legitimate was the game-winning goal, really, and should the NHL consider other ways to expand its use of instant replay?
Here’s the tape on Kane’s game-winner:
From an Avalanche perspective, surely one can nitpitck. Yes, Nemeth could have closed out sooner on Jonathan Toews and taken away his space.
But the goal really shouldn’t have been legal. Toews clearly touched the puck over shoulder-level when corralling the initial rebound, and the play should have been whistled dead for a faceoff with no Kane heroics.
Currently, the only two plays reviewable by challenge are goaltender interference and offside. But why? This play tonight is cut and dry, black and white. The purpose of replay is to get the call right, and it could have been done on this game-winner had it not been for the limitations of replay rules.
Here are some other observations from the game:
- After assisting on Rantanen’s first period goal, Tyson Barrie passed John-Michael Liles as the franchise’s all-time leader in assists by a defenseman.
- In the third period, following Colorado’s crucial 5-on-3 penalty kill, the top line was on the ice with a strong shift with all the momentum on its side, only to be whistled for offside, incorrectly, by the far-side linesman. Just... how?
- This is the first time the Avalanche have been under true .500 since November 16, when Colorado lost in overtime to Washington
- Nikita Kucherov scored two points tonight, so Mikko Rantanen isn’t even the NHL points leader anymore. Everything is bad.
Colorado plays next at home against the Los Angeles Kings at 6 p.m. MT on New Year’s Eve. The Kings are another really bad team, and the Avalanche have been struggling against bad teams of late. Maybe fortunes will change, or maybe the team will lose again and drive us further into a whirlwind of panic and despair.