The Colorado Avalanche would run into a goaltender impersonating a brick wall in Arizona netminder Antti Raanta Wednesday night at Ball Arena. However, despite the performance from Raanta, the Avalanche and captain Gabriel Landeskog would not be denied and take home a controlling victory in overtime by the score of 2-1.
Nathan MacKinnon’s return to the lineup gave coach Jared Bednar the ability to utilize his preferred forward lines. While the forward group is nearly back to 100%, the Avalanche blue-line is still decimated by injuries. This would be an issue for most organizations, but the Colorado defense has been one of the best in the league thanks to the discovery of fabulous depth pieces like Jacob MacDonald and Dan Renouf as well as consistent play from the veterans that have remained healthy and in the lineup.
Led by Samuel Girard and Devon Toews, the Avalanche defense and penalty kill are both among the best in the league. If you haven’t, make sure you check out this tremendous piece by our own Jackie Kay about how critical Girard has been to the team in this, his breakout season.
The Avalanche came out of the locker room flying. It didn’t take long for the second line to put the puck behind Coyotes netminder Raanta and give the Avalanche an early lead.
Andre Burakovsky does such a great job looking off the defender and creating the opening for Brandon Saad to put Colorado ahead less than two minutes into the game.
Soon thereafter Girard has an ugly giveaway, but immediately shows his defensive nous with a great play to prevent the two on one chance from tying the game. Plays like these highlight the growth in Girard’s game this season.
That Arizona half-chance would be one of the rare moments of pressure the Coyotes would get in period one. An invigorated MacKinnon and his teammates would put the pressure on Arizona and not let up the entire 20 minutes. After a small lull in the middle of the period, the Avalanche dominated. Colorado would stifle the Coyotes and prevent them from registering a single shot on goal for the last 13 plus minutes of the first. Arizona would end the period with three in total. Landeskog and MacKinnon would both put more pucks on net in the first period than the entire Arizona lineup.
Colorado would come out for the second frame with the same energy and intensity that saw the team dominate period one. Logan O’Connor would flash between Coyote defenders and break free one on one with Raanta, but a slashing penalty would break up the chance and put the Avalanche on their first power play of the evening.
Bednar made some changes to the middling Avalanche power play, inserting Burakovsky into the first unit in place of Nazem Kadri and moving MacKinnon into a more central role. Kadri would slot into the second unit with a similar role to the one that Mikko Rantanen plays on the first unit, hanging around the right-hand faceoff dot. These changes would help both units generate some chances, but Raanta would keep the deficit at one for Arizona.
Raanta would have to do a lot to keep the Coyotes in the game, making save after save against a determined Avalanche offense. With 12 minutes left to play in the period, Val Nichushkin would intercept a pass and start a two on one breakaway only for Raanta to deny Nichushkin and a trailing Rantanen with a gorgeous double save.
Colorado’s defense was stifling the Arizona offense throughout the period. It wasn’t until the first power play of the game for Arizona; occurring with only eight minutes left to play in the period, before the Coyotes would register their first shot on goal in the period. Between the first and second period Arizona would register over 20 minutes without a single shot on Philipp Grubauer.
Raanta would continue to keep Arizona in the game single handedly. With MacKinnon and Girard skating circles around the Coyotes, the Arizona netminder was under near constant pressure as the Avalanche would spend a majority of the second period in the Arizona zone. The Coyotes would weather a second penalty kill for a trip on Saad by Nick Schmaltz and keep the game within a goal despite their inability to generate offense.
After the penalty kill, the Coyote fortunes would change considerably. A long, disjointed shift in the Avalanche defensive zone would result in the puck ricocheting off Tyson Jost and behind Grubauer into the Colorado net to tie the game at one with less than two minutes left in the period.
Grubauer has been the victim of some wretched puck luck this series. All four Coyote goals bounced off Avalanche players this series.
Raanta closes out the period with a couple more nice saves as the Avalanche and Coyotes head into intermission all square; a great result for Arizona, disappointing for Colorado. After two periods, the Avalanche would hold a 31-9 advantage in shots on goal and were clearly the better team throughout.
With Colorado dominating play, the Avalanche would be looking to stay in charge of the run of play to start the final frame. Raanta would once again be up to the task, making a great save to deny Devon Toews just before the Avalanche would go on the power play after a tripping penalty.
Arizona would make some adjustments during intermission to their penalty kill, and a far more aggressive game plan would prevent the Avalanche power play from gaining any traction, registering no shots and having trouble holding the offensive zone.
Soon after the penalty is killed, Clayton Keller intercepts a pass and gets one on one versus Grubauer. The Avalanche goaltender would make the save of the night to keep the game level. A lapse in concentration would result in a too many men penalty (served by Saad) and the second Arizona power play of the contest.
The Avalanche would continue their incredible play on the penalty kill with Jost and his fantastic run on the PK unit drawing a penalty against former Avalanche Derick Brassard with five seconds remaining. Jost’s shorthanded play has been a real revelation for the young forward and team in a critical year for the player’s development.
The resulting power play would control the puck well, but Raanta would not be beaten. The Avalanche are having difficulty on the power play without Cale Makar running the point for the first unit. Shortly after the Brassard penalty concluded, MacKinnon would draw yet another penalty, this time hooking against Jakob Chychrun.
Raanta would once again deny the Avalanche from scoring with the man advantage. An incredible toe pad stop at full stretch on Nichushkin would close out the fifth Avalanche power play with the same result as the first four.
Grubauer would be called on again shortly after the power play was denied. A one on one breakaway from Schmaltz was snuffed out by the Colorado netminder who wasn’t called on often, but had to make some very difficult saves in a tight matchup. Grubauer’s play this season has been a huge reason that Colorado is a top five defensive team.
At the end of regulation, the Avalanche would hold a 44-14 advantage in shots on goal. Without the play of Raanta, this game is very likely a blowout in Colorado’s favor.
Colorado wins the faceoff to start with possession and nearly ends overtime when Nichushkin gets a breakaway on Raanta. A nice play by Chychrun to recover and poke check the puck away denies an early end to the extra period for the Avalanche.
Both teams would trade possession a couple of times before Landeskog would bury a wrist shot past Raanta to send Arizona back to the desert with a loss.
The Avalanche deserved the points after a complete performance at Ball Arena. If not for the remarkable play from Coyotes backup goaltender Raanta, this game would’ve gotten out of hand in the opening period. MacKinnon was a force all game and was on the ice for over 25 minutes in the overtime victory, registering 10 shots on goal despite not scoring.
Colorado’s power play has to get going soon. Part of why tonight was so nervy was due to an Avalanche power play that has been pretty tepid without Makar. In this two game series alone Colorado was one for nine with the advantage. Getting Makar healthy is crucial, but Bednar and his staff really need to find a way to get the power play clicking despite the phenom’s absence.
The defense and Grubauer deserve credit for keeping the game low scoring. Outside of the bad shift that led to the only Coyotes goal the entire team played great defense. The Avalanche blocked shots, intercepted passes and made life miserable for Arizona the entire series. Colorado has not allowed a team to get to 30 shots in 14 games and only allowed Arizona 28 in the two game set. It’s time to start talking about the Avalanche as one of the best defensive teams in the league; all without half of their top six defenders and no NHL caliber backup currently.
Shots: COL 46 - ARI 14
Power Play Conversion: COL 0/5 - ARI 0/2
Hits: COL 6 - ARI 11
Blocks: COL 17 - ARI 20
Giveaways: COL 7 - ARI 0
The Avalanche (14-8-2) will remain in the friendly confines of Ball Arena and host the Los Angeles Kings (11-8-6). The Kings are coming off a pair of high scoring games against the Ducks, splitting the two games. Arizona will head to Minnesota to take on the Wild.