Hoping to enter the three-day holiday break on a high note the Colorado Avalanche traveled to Vegas in search of a win and defensive consistency. There were still a few more breakdowns than they’d like but the goal scoring showed up in the right moments to cruise to a 7-3 victory.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare picked the appropriate time at 4:37 to score his first goal in 17 games as as he again puts the Avalanche on the board first in front of what used to be his home crowd. History repeating itself with another goal explosion in Vegas was on the horizon.
After multiple high quality saves from Pavel Francouz Vegas answered back on a rush of their own and it appeared William Carrier beat the coverage to deposit the puck in the net at 10:23 but Carrier hit Nikita Zadorov’s stick to direct the puck and it was credited to Ryan Reaves instead.
The Avalanche found more success on the penalty kill than their own power play when at 14:28 when Matt Nieto took a feed from JT Compher and then beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway for his first goal in 13 games. Then Nazem Kadri stole the puck and created his own breakaway for a tally at 17:35. Despite getting out-shot 18-12 in the period the Avalanche took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
The second period was calmed down until Max Pacioretty cut the Avalanche lead when he pounced on a Nathan MacKinnon turnover to put the Golden Knights within one at 11:57. However that momentum would not last long as the Avalanche answered right back just over two minutes later when Gabe Landeskog scored in his 600th career NHL game off a quick entry on the power play and a harmless looking wrist shot.
At 16:58 Bellemare scored his sixth goal of the season and third against his old club on a turnaround shot that had eyes. Vegas challenged the goal for a potential offside on the entry but video playback was inconclusive and the goal stood. The Avalanche were now up 5-2 after two and looking to lock the third period down after their previous two blunders.
Things didn’t go according to plan as Golden Knights got an early strike when Carrier finally netted his own goal at 2:06 into the third period but again the Avalanche didn’t let the momentum carry the home team for long as they got a power play and converted again. Mikko Rantanen deflected the puck in on a Golden Knights stick just two minutes later to restore the lead to three.
Valeri Nichushkin completed the Gordie Howe hat trick with the Avalanche’s seventh goal of the evening just over three minutes to go when a failed clearing attempt bounced off his face and in the net. It was that kind of night for Vegas and also showed the hard work Nichushkin puts in to make an impact. His fight was with Deryk Engelland in the second period and the assist came on Bellemare’s second goal to complete this sacred hockey trifecta.
Pavel Francouz was stellar again making 29 saves including several highlight reel stops. It seems he’s been getting the better efforts in front of him but Francouz is also doing enough to get the wins as he is 9-0-1 in his last 10 games. The “goaltending controversy” won’t happen this season as having two well-performing netminders is a good problem to have but is going to become a conversation in the off season when Francouz becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The heroic return of Cale Makar waits one more game as the Avalanche went to battle without him as he still did not quite feel 100 percent with the break coming up as well but he is expected to play in the next contest. The Avalanche went 4-3-1 without him which is adequate enough but will need Makar’s dynamic ability to make headway in the tough central division.
Andre Burakovsky only played 11:25 in this contest but he took a couple sticks to the face that needed some medical attention which could have been a factor. But he has only played over 14 minutes once and scored one point in his last seven games. The Avalanche will need to find Burakovsky some more minutes and he will have to solve some of the streakiness moving forward.
Following the break the Colorado Avalanche will be back at it on Friday, December 27th when they host the Minnesota Wild at 6pm MT, which local fans can watch on NBCSN.