Val Nichushkin made his triumphant return to the lineup but the Colorado Avalanche battled fatigue and mental mistakes all night in a 3-2 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens which required overtime to get the job done. It was the 15th straight home victory for the Avalanche and sixth win in a row.
The game started quickly for the Avalanche as Alex Newhook converted from his money spot on the power play at 8:20. Setting up the play was Samuel Girard in nearly identical fashion to Newhook’s goal against Minnesota. Newhook’s specialty truly is scoring from that place at the top of the left circles which he has done through his entire career.
Despite putting up 23 shots in the first frame nothing further happened for the Avalanche until 8:57 when it took another power play and absolutely gorgeous assist from Girard to Nichuskin on the doorstep to grab that important two goal lead.
Unfortunately the Avalanche did not just run away with the game at that point as Artturi Lehkonen found the back of the net against Darcy Kuemper just before the end of the second period on a 2-on-1 and nice set up from Nick Suzuki. The Avalanche had been playing with fire giving Montreal odd man rushes and finally got burned.
The Avalanche appeared to have scored their third goal of the night from Nazem Kadri but it was called back due to the play being offside. Instead it was Suzuki who got a goal of his own 8:06 into the third period to tie the game at two goals apiece. The Avalanche penalty kill had been stout as of late but gave one up at an inopportune time. Montreal had a better push to end regulation and it felt like the Avalanche survived to grab a standings point.
The Avalanche made quick work in overtime using their skill advantage to maintain possession of the puck. Sorely missed Nichushkin showed up again and feathered a great pass to a waiting Gabe Landeskog for the tap in just over one minute into the extra frame for a 3-2 final in Colorado’s favor.
It’s clear the eight games in 13 nights have caught up to the Avalanche as their top players all had nothing in this game. Couple that with mental mistakes with just overall signs of fatigue and it took some secondary players in Girard and Nichushkin in particular to step up and take over this game. It wasn’t just the points either as both were consistently impactful and elevated their game over what their teammates were able to provide.
It is remarkable the train just keeps chugging along as the Avalanche are racking up wins and climbing the standings now to a third best 59 points and highest winning percentage in the league at .756%. Only problem is that the regular season isn’t even halfway over for the Avalanche. The eight day break over All-Star weekend will help rest and recuperate the bunch but after that the schedule is unrelenting for the next two months. Running only five regular defensemen and failing to utilize both the taxi squad and talent from the minors is not going to serve the Avalanche well in the long run.
Another game in the homestand, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks at 7pm MT on Monday, January 24th.