A surging Colorado Avalanche team who coming into this game had won three straight were still in search of their first regulation win against the Anaheim Ducks. What resulted was the Avalanche surviving an ugly first period to score six unanswered goals and prevailed in a wild 8-4 win over the Ducks.
For two teams have have struggled to struggled to score this game opened with far more excitement than expected. Although the scoring certainly had the feel of two backup goaltenders playing so perhaps funny plays should have been foreseen.
Andre Burakovsky got the Avalanche on the board first just a minute into the game when he found a rebound behind Ryan Miller and tapped it in the net.
That lead lasted all of one minute as at 2:16 Troy Terry took advantage of some imaginary defense and Hunter Miska’s desperation play. Then another Ducks goal from Danton Heinen as he jumped on the ice and snuck the puck past Miska short-side at 4:33.
The Avalanche got one back and tied the game when Nazem Kadri fired a slap shot at 7:02. It seemed like the Avalanche finally settled down with an even score at that point but then that line botched a three-on-one and momentum shifted again.
It wasn’t over for Anaheim in the period when they got another hint of life as they converted on a faceoff goal from Adam Henrique in which nobody in burgundy was defending him at 15:59. The debacle reached a head when a penalty shot on an Avalanche power play was awarded to the Ducks’ Derek Grant at 19:42 in which naturally he converted on. 4-2 Ducks lead after one.
Miska was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer to start the second period in an effort to kick-start the team and claw their way back into the game. It took over half of the period but Mikko Rantanen at 11:25 got the bank shot off of the back of Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller to work again. It was a fantastic skilled play to get the home team some momentum.
The Avalanche weren’t done in the period and completed the comeback to even the score when Andre Burakovsky directed a perfect shot on net which Nazem Kadri tipped just prior to the end of the second frame. Game tied 4-4 after two.
It didn’t take long to see who was going to prevail in this game when Nathan MacKinnon scored to take the lead just one minute into the third period. It was his first power play goal since January on his classic one time shot from the left circle. Soon after that Samuel Girard added an insurance marker when he bounced a sharp angle shot off of a Ducks player for his career-high fifth goal of the season at 3:42 and the Avalanche were back in full control of this game.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored his second empty net goal of the season at 16:48 and then Brandon Saad added the eighth goal for good measure at 18:45 to bring home a 8-4 victory for Colorado. Shots were 36-22 for the Avalanche to keep their shots against under 30 streak going as well.
It’s time for the Avalanche to own up to their mismanagement of the goaltending situation. Miska has been clearly over his head and should have never been put in the situation to carry the load as a backup for over two months because the Avalanche failed to secure any sort of proper third goaltender. The situation doesn’t even require hindsight as they knew both Grubauer and Pavel Francouz were hurt in the playoffs in September with the latter requiring double knee surgery in the offseason as well. When the return to play plans were announced with a third goaltender required on the taxi squad at minimum and numerous COVID-19 related protocols which could force players to miss time made the need an even clearer reality. While no goalie that’s available in a third string capacity is fantastic the Avalanche could have had someone with more NHL experience and ability for very little cost and no assets if they had any sort of foresight. If they weren’t going to invest in the position they also failed to try all internal options before presumably getting forced to look for outside help. Now with the situation coming to a head it is going to cost a lot more to fix a preventable problem.
That all said about the goaltending it was also a very poor defensive performance to begin the game which helped to put the Avalanche in the hole they created. It’s a concern that it seems to come up once every 10 days or so where the structure and commitment to defense is a no show for a game. Getting Cale Makar and Bowen Byram back soon should help improve the breakout ability on the back end but it’s been a team defense problem that crops up every so often. For a team that leads in many league-wide defensive metrics they are prone to brain cramps in the defensive end which lead to big opportunities for the opposition.
For all the faults the Avalanche show at times they also display a lot of qualities which make them a great team. The resilience they possess is a great tool to have and to build confidence in the fact that the team is never out of a game will help greatly down the line. Seven different players scored a goal in this game and in many different ways which will hopefully kickstart the firepower that the Avalanche can bring into games consistently. It is also important that the Avalanche can exert their will and style of play in order to dominate opponents.
The start of a big two-game set with the Minnesota Wild starting at 7pm MT on Thursday, March 18th.