The Colorado Avalanche hit the ice today like they will for the remainder of the season, without Gabriel Landeskog. Their record so far without their captain, 1-0. The Avalanche out muscled the Buffalo Sabres for a hard-fought, and well-controlled 3-0 victory, gaining an all important two points as they keep their face in the game for a playoff spot.
Philipp Grubauer got his second shutout of the year, and came up with some big saves, but mostly let the defense in front of him do the job as the Avs out-shot the Sabres by a huge 43-18 margin.
With the Avs looking up at teams ahead of them in the playoff hunt, they needed a win and a convincing one. This was also game one of a four-game home stand that, by the end of it, could determine if the Avs will still be in the mix for the postseason.
Oh, and that Nathan MacKinnon guy? He’s pretty darn good.
A pretty ho-hum beginning of period one. Both teams would control the puck an equal amount but no real scoring chances in the early going. There were no odd man rushes, or breakaways, and both goalies were tested minimally.
As far as action goes, leave that to Nikita Zadorov. Buffalo’s golden ticket in Jack Eichel carried the puck in offside and the whistle blew just as Zadorov was getting ready to size up Eichel for a check. Most would do their best to put on the breaks, but that’s just not Nikita as he hammered Eichel into the boards and gave him a little extra as he went to the ground in yanking his helmet off. Buffalo did what they are supposed to in protecting their main attraction in Eichel. Three roughing penalties would be called when all was done, two against Colorado and Buffalo would go on their first power play of the game, which the Avs would kill.
The Avs would draw their first penalty after a hooking call and we got to see the first Avalanche power play without Landeskog who is so detrimental in the man advantage. It doesn’t help that Buffalo has one of the best penalty kills in the league and Colorado would go without a goal.
Grubauer would have an incredible save on Sam Reinhart on a breakaway as Reinhart exited the penalty box and received a spot on pass for Buffalo’s best chance of the period.
Things took a little while to get going but the Zadorov hit on Eichel seemed to awaken both teams as almost every stoppage in play would result in extracurricular activity. The Avs would out-shoot the Sabres 12-4 but would have nothing to show for it at this stage in the game.
Just over three minutes into the second, MacKinnon’s skill would be on full display. Mack would get knocked to his knees just before the blue line from a back check by Eichel and to watch how quickly he would jump back up to his skates, enter the zone and fire a wrister past Carter Hutton for the game’s first goal. It was a ‘blink and you missed it’ type of play. It all happened in about three seconds and it was a thing of beauty to watch.
The second period would be almost a copy of the first. Both teams playing fast and getting some chances, with the Avs getting more ‘oh, so close’ chances than the Sabres. The physicality of the game did not decrease either. Eichel, obviously not over the Zadorov hit, appeared to take a direct shot to the head of Carl Soderberg but was only given a two minute minor penalty that would prove fruitless for the Avalanche.
The Avs ended with a flurry of chances by multiple players but Hutton needed to be on his game and he was. If not for Carter Hutton this game would have been a blowout. A 26-7 shot differential after two is all you need for proof Hutton kept the Sabres in the game.
With the captain out of commission, you always look for the guys who step up and take more of a role. Tyson Jost seemed to be the man to put more of the pressure on his shoulders and was everywhere. Multiple times he was in the right place at the right time but just couldn’t get the puck in net. He wasn’t dominant like MacKinnon is, he was just solid and smart.
Derick Brassard also saw the benefits of playing with one of the games best players as he saw multiple opportunities in the second but, like Jost, came up empty.
The Avs kept the pressure up early in the third looking for that goal to give them some cushion, but Hutton continued to do his best and kept the Avs off the board. The hard hitting and checking would continue as well and more penalties would come from both teams getting into pushing and shoving matches.
Not only is Nathan MacKinnon gifted with hockey skills, but he’s also got hockey smarts. During a 4-on-4 MacKinnon was slashed by Johan Larsson and instead of riding out the penalty with Grubauer on the bench and gaining an extra skater, he left the puck alone to be touched which gave the Avs a 4-on-3 for about a minute. It paid off as Mikko Rantanen waited patiently for his time to strike and with Brassard blocking the view of Hutton, Rantanen found the back of the net to give the Avs a 2-0 lead
The Avalanche faithful held their collective breath as another one of their top line players headed to the locker room after a nasty looking hit. Mikko Rantanen was attempting to catch a puck out of mid air and then was the center of his very own ping-pong game. Jack Eichel hit Mikko from one side which sent his head into the body of Rasmus Dahlin. The play went on as Mikko lay on the ice, eventually able to skate off on his own and he headed right to the locker room. Minutes later he would emerge and looked to be okay.
Buffalo would pull their goalie which would eventually lead to this end to end empty net score by Gabriel Bourque, his first of the year.
- The Avalanche played a very consistent and complete game throughout. Once again, they saw the benefits of getting shots on goal and they got a lot of them. 43 to be exact. The end of the season is near and points are of the utmost importance.
- I didn’t mention Philipp Grubauer all that much here. When you face 18 shots (a handful of them coming in the last couple minutes with the goalie pulled), and the defense in front of you has one of their best games of the year, your job gets a little easier.
- This was an entertaining game from a physical standpoint. Two teams that don’t have much of a history were really throwing their bodies around and it’s a little surprising the gloves weren’t dropped at least once.
- The first game of the current four game home streak can be placed in the win column. Now the momentum needs to continue.
- Oh, and did I mention that Nathan MacKinnon guy? He’s pretty darn good.