Matt Nieto entered the NHL playoffs without scoring a goal in 2019. His last goal came on December 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh. Now after four months and a 39-game drought, the Colorado Avalanche winger has goals in back to back games - both coming shorthanded.
Not only did he snap his own scoreless streak, Matt Nieto scored the first goal for the Avalanche nearly four and a half periods into their first round series with the Calgary Flames.
The first came Saturday night in game two. Nieto was able to chip the puck past T.J. Brodie at his own blueline and he was off to the races. Brodie is one of the better skating defenders in the Western Conference and Nieto was able to pull away and score an unassisted goal. It was the team’s first goal of the series and Nieto’s first playoff marker in more than three years.
Nieto used his speed to get down the ice but what was more impressive was his ability to get the puck up over Mike Smith while going full out. All too often players with this kind of speed don’t have the hands to keep up with their feet - hello Michael Grabner - but that wasn’t an issue for Nieto.
His second shorthanded goal of the playoffs came at nearly the exact same time - 7:51 of the second period - a game later. This time the Avalanche were leading 3-0 and it was Nieto’s snipe that put the Flames away for the night.
This one came in a much different way. After falling deep in Calgary’s zone, Ian Cole was caught out of position but was lucky enough to pick up a loose puck and turn it into a breakaway. Mike Smith was able to stop the initial shot but it was Matt Nieto who came in to put the rebound in the back of the net.
Once again it was Nieto’s speed that generated that got him in position to score. On the rebound you can see Nieto starting the transition from the top of his own crease. He skates nearly the entire length of the ice and beats Sean Monahan to the open rebound in time to get the puck past a sprawling Smith.
Nieto becomes the first player to score two shorthanded goals in the same playoff run since Carl Haglin did it back in 2014 and the first to do it in the same series since Johan Franzen did it against the Avs in 2008.
Speaking to Sportsnet the night of the draft lottery, Joe Sakic said that if his Avalanche team were going to have a chance against the number one seed, they were going to have to turn the series into a track meet. Matt Nieto is helping to do that.
He only scored four goals all season, but Nieto’s speed is built perfectly for the style of game Colorado is looking to play in this series.
Nieto has come up big for the Avs through the first three games and it fits in with his pattern of being a big-time playoff performer. As a rookie with the San Jose Sharks in 2015, he finished tied for second on his team with five points over six games. Last year, his three points put him behind only Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen for Avalanche playoff scoring.
Nieto is a 0.32 point per game player over his 402 regular season games. In the playoffs his production jumps up to 0.44 points per game. He excels at a high-speed north-south game and in the playoffs that becomes especially valuable.
We shouldn’t expect him to keep producing at a point per game pace over this playoff run but Nieto is going to be a big part is any success the Avalanche have - and it’s entirely thanks to his foot speed.
The Avalanche are now undefeated in playoff games where Matt Nieto scores a short handed goal - an easy enough streak to continue.