The Colorado Avalanche entered their Saturday evening game against the Arizona Coyotes scrambling to keep their good standing in what’s become a fiercely-fought Western Conference battle, hoping to bounce back from their lackluster effort against the Dallas Stars the night prior to open up November.
Their effort was there, and a dominant second period kept them competitive in the game — but two early goals for Arizona and an elite-level effort from Darcy Kuemper on the other end of the ice left the Avalanche skating away with a disappointing 3-0 loss to drop to 8-4-2 and third in the Central Division overall.
The Avalanche came out of the gate energized, despite what would ultimately be an underwhelming overall result for the first period.
They and the Coyotes have been well-matched speed-wise this year, but the Avalanche looked to be the cleaner of the two teams in terms of passing and offensive set-ups during the first five or so minutes of the first period — and although the Coyotes were the first team to start putting offensive shots on goal, the Avalanche looked to be staying competitive early on.
The first ten minutes saw plenty of back-and-forth movement on the ice, but the Coyotes defense shut down first handful of offensive zone entries for Avalanche. Then, the Avalanche were faced with a penalty kill thanks to Joonas Donskoi — and after a few offensive chances by the Coyotes PP unit, the home team got themselves on the board. Phil Kessel fired at the net, and Christian Dvorak jammed it home in the chaos after Francouz made the initial stop.
Just the start we were looking for. pic.twitter.com/BHJO1TkrhT— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) November 3, 2019
After that first PP goal, the Avalanche immediately turned on the jets. They spent a good two straight minutes in the offensive zone, setting up opportunities and testing Darcy Kuemper’s ability to fight through traffic.
While the Avalanche sustained pressure so well that Darcy Kuemper eventually took a penalty for tripping, the Coyotes were able to kill off the Kuemper penalty with relative ease. Then, at the end of the period, Pavel Francouz made an unreal set of saves — but his efforts ended up being for naught when Barrett Hayton sent the puck in from behind the net and Phil Kessel ripped it top shelf to make the game 2-0.
The Avalanche capitalized on the fact that the Coyotes have been fairly poor in the second period this year, outshooting their opponents 17-3 through the middle frame and taking advantage of Arizona’s three consecutive penalties to wear down the home team.
Unfortunately, the game seemed to be Darcy Kuemper’s best so far this year. So although the Avalanche did their best to even things up, they were stonewalled through 20 — and the only excitement fans got was watching a brief but aggressive fight between Lawson Crouse and Nazem Kadri to fire everyone up with just minutes to go in the frame.
Saturday Night Fights!— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) November 3, 2019
In this corner...LAWSON CROUSE! pic.twitter.com/MwbY4MavsH
The Coyotes also managed to take advantage of some sustained pressure in the offensive zone during the last few minutes of the period, and a cross-ice pass from Nick Schmaltz to Conor Garland made it a 3-0 game after 40 minutes.
Both teams were able to get a more evenly-matched effort out of the third period, but neither would manage to find the back of the net during those final 20 minutes of play.
That was good news for Francouz, who didn’t let the goals through the first two periods rattle him at all. But for the Avalanche, it was a frustrating way to end the game; although they tried to clean things up and the Coyotes stopped peppering them with shots, they didn’t manage to get anything past Darcy Kuemper. So while they scored both of their regulation goals against Arizona earlier this year during that final frame, they skated away this time empty-handed — leaving Nathan MacKinnon without a point for the first time this season and handing the team their fourth regulation loss of the year.
- When asked about how to address a team firing as well as the Coyotes were, defender Ryan Graves seemed convinced that the team’s wounds were more self-inflicted than anything else. But head coach Jared Bednar’s assessment — that the Avalanche had some strong play early in the first, dominated in the second, and had some spurts in the third to go with good goaltending — suggested that the issue wasn’t as much effort as circumstantial.
- Pavel Francouz will look back on this game with an .893 save percentage in all situations and three goals allowed on just 28 shots, but the loss was far from his fault. He stopped all but two of the 16 shots Arizona took in the first period alone, and kept them in the game even with an inconsistent effort in front of him. He wasn’t as good as Darcy Kuemper on the other end of the ice, who earned the shutout — but the loss was far from his fault.
The Coyotes scored their second goal not long after this, btw, but the puck awareness from Pavel Francouz was stellar on this save in the first period. Think he’s kept this game competitive for COL. (GIF courtesy of @hayyyshayyy) pic.twitter.com/soBVSGQDUD— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) November 3, 2019
- The loss of Mikko Rantanen was tough, and the loss of Gabriel Landeskog simultaneously has been devastating — but credit to the Avalanche that they still stayed competitive in the game for as long as they did. They had nine high-danger Corsi events against Arizona over the course of the game even while missing two of their top offensive threats, and they skated away from a loss against one of the league’s most surprisingly surging teams with just three goals against (for comparison, the Coyotes have scored four or more goals five times in 13 games so far this year, including against teams like the Nashville Predators and the Vegas Golden Knights). If this is what a ‘struggling’ Avalanche roster looks like, they’re going to be just fine; once they return to full strength, it’s hard to pick out a Western Conference team that looks like it could be better than them right now.
- Cale Makar led the Avalanche in shots on goal with 5, and the team as a whole managed to stay in the game more than the overall score would indicate. But the fact that this was MacKinnon’s first game without a point is a harsh reminder; he’s very good (and the team has plenty of depth to help him out), but they need their top line back badly. During a tired game like that, having Landeskog and Rantanen out there with him could have been the difference-maker on his own four shots.