Continuing on their road trip the Colorado Avalanche made their latest stop in Pittsburgh for part one of the annual Battle of Cole Harbour. The Nathan MacKinnon versus Sidney Crosby match played out on national tv in the only televised contest many local Avalanche fans have seen this season. MacKinnon along with Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar hoped to keep their point streak alive as well as their undefeated start to the season.
All good things must come to an end as the Avalanche suffered their first defeat of the season in a 3-2 Pittsburgh Penguins victory. Makar also was held pointless however MacKinnon and Rantanen continued theirs in dramatic fashion. The Avalanche will hope to even the series and get revenge on Crosby in a rematch in January at the Pepsi Center.
Matt Calvert started the scoring early just over three minutes into the game on a slick cross-ice pass from Matt Nieto. The lead would evaporate by three minutes to go in the period as Sidney Crosby did what he does best and put a move on Erik Johnson during a stretch of four-on-four play and fired the puck behind goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
It was a sloppy disjointed period where the Avalanche lost any sort of handle on the game killing three near consecutive penalties. The visitors were fortunate to exit the frame tied at one apiece and has a chance to regroup despite getting outshot 12-7.
The second period started in a better rhythm but the Avalanche fell into more disorganized play. They were fighting the puck all night and did not have much jump or poise in their game. Jake Guentzel received a great feed from Crosby and eventually put the Penguins up by one at 15:20.
Despite the struggles through the first 40 minutes of play the Avalanche had one more trick left in the bag and that was a goal from “The Big Line”. Mikko Rantanen feathered a perfect pass to a MacKinnon who got behind the Pittsburgh defense and deposited the puck above goaltender Matt Murray’s glove at, again, just three minutes into the third period.
A few more tense moments transpired to end regulation and the teams were headed to overtime. Momentum seemed to finally swing in the Avalanche’s direction as Cale Makar brought the flash and dash in order to create several good scoring chances and then he drew a penalty. After multiple short handed rushes the Penguins were able to get the final tally of the evening on a goal credited to Brandon Tanev at 3:57. In actuality it was Gabe Landeskog who swatted the puck into his own net in an attempt to clear the crease for Grubauer in a perfectly fitting way to end this game.
A big storyline of this game was a hit from Patric Hornqvist on Nathan MacKinnon in the middle of the first period. There was no penalty given on this play but is up to individual interpretation if it is too low or late. MacKinnon was shaken up but remained in the game although clearly nursing his leg, which also didn’t prevent him from scoring.
Should a penalty have been called on Patric Hornqvist for this hit on Nathan MacKinnon? pic.twitter.com/7tEgMUuand— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 16, 2019
The difficulties the Avalanche endured in this game were the fault of everyone who played but the surprising decision to healthy scratch Nikita Zadorov couldn’t have helped cohesion, particularly on the defense. Zadorov’s physical presence was also a missing element on a night that was tough to gain any momentum. Whatever issues the coaching staff has with Zadorov hopefully get worked out so that he can join the lineup again soon.
An element of controlled chaos has persisted through the Avalanche season thus far through the first six games and has led to points in each of those games. But when they lose the handle on that chaos the game gets out of their control much like stretches of this evening’s contest. Despite the plethora of new “depth” brought in, Bednar still leans heavily on his top horses and especially the trio on defense of Erik Johnson, Sam Girard and Cale Makar who each logged over 22 minutes or more in this match. Also, outside the “Big Line” no forward cracked the 15 minute mark. Better balance moving forward should help sustain success and stability.