Was anyone else wondering if Darcy Kuemper was a genuine franchise asset prior to last night’s 4-1 win over the Kings? I was openly supporting Francouz being elevated to G1 because his last five starts seemed a step above anything Kuemper had done this season. Them Kuemper went all Gandalf and gave us 60 minutes of, "you shall not pass!" The guy had 40 saves, some of which were genuinely spectacular. He flat out robbed Kings rookie Quinton Byfield and Victor Arvidsson in the first period and continually bailed out the Avs leaky defense all night.
On a side note, Byfield looks legit and it’ll be fun watching his career develop because the kid is a great skater and looks absolutely fearless.
Anyway, back to Kuemper. In a game where the Avs surrendered 34 shots in the first 40 minutes, Darcy was the biggest reason the why Avs were able to eek out a win despite being outplayed for the first two periods, woefully outplayed in fact. But for Kuemper, the Avs would’ve been blown out by LA. The only goal he allowed was on a powerplay that culminated in a crease scrum where Kings icon Anze Kopitar popped in a little squirter. Was that Kuemper’s bad for giving up a rebound? The puck did escape DK’s glove but it’s not like it was a juicy low slot point blank gimme. Was it Jack Johnson’s fault for not decapitating Kopitar when he had a chance? Maybe, kind of. It was just one of those ugly goals manufactured by a shitload of net traffic on the man advantage. They’re inevitable, in a Thanos kinda way.
It’ll be fascinating to watch Kuemper and Francouz down the stretch. Don’t be surprised if they struggle back and forth for supremacy. Having two battle tested goalies who can steel games come playoff time is never a bad thing. And let’s admit, Francouz stole the dub from Anaheim and Kuemper stole last night’s game. Just keep in mind they’re both UFA’s at the end of the season. Never underestimate the power of a contract year, look at Nazem Kadri.
The other stories of the night were the continued improvement of the penalty kill, the sustained brilliance of the Avs superstars, and the tantalizing potential of the youngsters.
The PK gave up their first goal since the Nashville game but it’s not as if it was the result of a glaring mistake. They’ve dramatically improved their backside coverage and their overall positional cohesion. The navel gazing seems to be a thing of the past. On the night, the Avs successfully killed off 4 of 5 against a Kings side with a 16% PP success rate, so there is that. Either way, the PK looks transformed.
When looking at PK minutes, it’s not as if there’s been a dramatic change in personnel. The biggest change staff wise is Kadri now being on the PK2 unit. Compher, Jost, and O’Connor are still the most relied upon PK forwards but Kadri’s minutes are steadily climbing. Gotta admit, he is pretty good at killing penalties
The Avs uber alles array of superstars were on point. MacKinnon dished out two assists, Rantanen netted a goal and was in regal form, Makar got an assist, and though Kadri and Landeskog didn’t point they were at times menacing, at times invisible. The stars were mercurial in their consistency but when they were on, like the third period, they were stellar. Heh, get it? The stars were stellar. That was artful punning.
Give it up for Kiefer Sherwood and Alex Newhook. In only 7:03 of TOI, Sherwood scored a goal, was +1, and looked confident and decisive. At times, Newhook was the fastest/quickest guy out on the ice. He’s getting significant PK minutes now and his awareness is getting better seemingly by the shift. These two are helping to make Nichushkin’s absence bearable.
Maltsev looked really good. He saved a puck from dribbling in behind Kuemper, his defending was almost fearsome, and he led all forwards in hits with 5 in 10min of ice time. Only Erik Johnson and Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson had more hits than Maltsev. He’s been vilified by Avs fans but he might be improving enough to convince the critics to shutdafookup.