The Colorado Avalanche almost underestimated their opponents on Friday night, when the Arizona Coyotes made a quick, two-goal near comeback in the third period to nearly tie up their contest against the Avs at the last second.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and company made sure not to make that mistake twice, though — while they were a bit sluggish in the opening frame on Saturday night, they stormed out for the second and third periods and completely dominated offensively for a forty-minute stretch to skate away with a 6-2 final score.
MacKinnon and Landeskog saw their goals accompanied by tallies from depth players Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Joonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost, and Jacob MacDonald in a game that didn’t just look like a satisfying win, it looked like a return to form for a team that had been struggling to get into the win column.
The Arizona Coyotes were the picture of ‘too little, too late’ on Friday night, when their two last-minute goals brought them close (but not close enough) in Colorado’s eventual win.
It was clear in the opening frame that they’d taken that and dwelled on it last night, as the Avalanche played their first legitimately challenging period against Arizona since the early games of their bubble playoff round back in August. Although MacKinnon scored an absolutely brilliant outside snipe against the recently-returned Antti Raanta 12:16 into the period, it was the Coyotes who maintained the stronger offensive pressure for the first time in a while.
After first intermission, though, the Avalanche clearly realized that Arizona wasn’t going to take this game laying down — so they quickly shifted into a higher gear, storming out at the start of the second frame with an aggressive early push that lasted nearly the first five minutes of the period entirely.
The Coyotes would make a brief pushback in the middle of the second period, forcing the Avalanche to spend a bit of time in their own zone before Clayton Keller — who has been battling an inconsistency reputation similar to that of MacKinnon’s early seasons in Colorado following his own Calder bid — tipped in a shot past Grubauer to tie the game back up.
Their offensive push wouldn’t last long, though. Once they scored their game-tying goal, they sat back on their heels and the Avalanche went to work.
First, newcomer Jacob MacDonald — who has played in just six NHL games this year while the Avalanche deal with an injury-riddled blue line — scored his second career NHL goal with just 2:45 left in the second period, taking advantage of a somewhat-sluggish (and undoubtedly already fatigued) Raanta with a wrap-around goal that slipped in upon Raanta’s delay leaving his right post to push across the crease.
The game would enter the third period with the Avalanche up by just one goal, but it would take less than two minutes into the final frame for Landeskog to score his fourth of the season on the power-play — and from there, the floodgates opened up.
Donskoi scored his sixth goal of the season exactly 12 minutes into the period, beating Raanta with a wrister as the Avalanche relentlessly pummeled their opponents with shots. Tyson Jost would get his first of the year less than two minutes after that on another wrister, and an empty-netter from Bellemare would seal the deal as a rapidly-defeated looking Coyotes team allowed Colorado to park themselves in the offensive zone for nearly the entire remainder of the game. Their only real pushback would come at 16:32 of the third period, when Johan Larsson scored his second goal of the season to keep Arizona from getting completely steamrolled in the game; with a shot differential in the final forty minutes of a whopping 34-16, it was clear which team was controlling the play when it mattered most.
- The Avalanche made life slightly more difficult for starter Philipp Grubauer in the first period, and they overall allowed more shots on Saturday than they had the night before. But although he didn’t get quite the stingy defense that Miska had the night before, he still managed to remind fans why he’s been such a relief to have around this season — and why it’s so imperative that he stay both well-rested and healthy until the team is able to re-insert Pavel Francouz into the lineup. His overall movement was more controlled, his game reads was more of what you’d expect from an NHL goaltender, and his performance was just another piece of the confidence-inspiring puzzle that was the Avs as they faced down a team that just doesn’t seem to have them figured out as of late.
- Once again, part of Colorado’s success came due to some sloppy mistakes on Arizona’s part. The Avalanche allowed more shots in Saturday’s game, with Arizona managing to control more of the game flow than they had the night before. But while the Coyotes were able to exert some pushback — and while the Avalanche certainly allowed it, especially early on — they were more victims of their own careless mistakes (including a too many men penalty taken when they could have sorely used the sustained momentum to keep the Avalanche at bay late in the second period) than they were victims of an Avalanche team that came out swinging from puck drop. It was refreshing to see the Avalanche take advantage of those mental and structural lapses from Arizona, but they’ve had Arizona’s number for a while now; against teams that are much harder for them to bully, they’ll have to be more proactive when it comes to asserting control in the offensive end than they were in either of their games this weekend.
- It goes without saying, but it’s still always worth repeating whenever possible — Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention around the league for just how gifted he is with the puck. His first period goal came against a goaltender who has been battling chronic injuries for the past three years, and who hadn’t played in a game in a handful of weeks — but it was nonetheless a thing of beauty, creating space around Raanta rather than waiting to take advantage of poor positioning. That’s the kind of vision that the Avalanche need to show more of; with an ever-growing number of elite goaltenders around the league, it’s not good enough to wait for talented guys (like Raanta, and a number of other Honda West starters) to make mistakes and open up opportunities.