Not often do hockey fans get a nationally televised game on a Sunday in the midst of NFL season. They did today with the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. Mikko Rantanen made sure to give them a show, not without some dramatic flair of course.
Things started slow for both teams today. Something that is not unusual for matinee games. Not much happened for either team in the first period of this game. The Blues got two power plays in a row, which overlapped for a 30-second 5-on-3. They got two shots on goal and the Avalanche limited them to no high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche got their own powerplay late in the period and created as much as the Blues did in their two opportunities, which isn’t saying much.
Both Jordan Binnington and Pavel Francouz were strong in the first frame, but neither had much danger to face. This trend would continue for the remainder of the game.
The second period did not start much differently than the first. The Blues began strong with possession, but never got high-quality chances. Eventually, the Avalanche received another power-play opportunity, this one was even worse than their first powerplay so their score stayed knotted at zero.
Mere minutes after the abysmal powerplay who else but Mikko Rantanen broke the deadlock? Quick and smart puck decisions by Brad Hunt (who got his first point as an Av on the play) and Alex Newhook helped spring Rantanen and Jean-Luc Foudy for a two-on-one. Rantanen didn’t even think about passing and ripped a shot-low glove past Jordan Binnington for the 1-0 lead.
After the tally, the Avalanche controlled play for the second half of the period. They had some nice looks but weren’t able to finish on them, to no one’s surprise. The most dangerous was a chance Brad Hunt skied after the Blues lost him in coverage and Rantanen fed him from behind the net. Binnington got lost as well so Hunt had a lot of net to score on if he had just hit the net, which he did not.
The Blues really picked up the intensity to begin the third, and the Avalanche didn’t exactly make life hard on them. St. Louis was dominating possession and had some golden opportunities close to the net. Fortunately for the Avs, Francouz turned them all away. Not so fortunately for the Avs, Francouz had a hard time controlling his saves, which caused the Avs to panic. This panic led to a lot of turnovers and extended the Blues' zone time. That eventually paid dividends for St. Louis when Cale Makar took a high-sticking double minor after nicking Jordan Kyrou in the face with his stick and drawing blood.
The Blues took advantage of their third power play opportunity of the night as soon as possible. Less than 10 seconds into the four-minute powerplay Ryan O'Reilly found Vladimir Tarasenko, who was no more than a foot from the goal line, and Trasenko buried a beautiful shot over Francouz’s shoulder to tie the game at 1-1.
The Avalanche killed off the second minor with ease to keep the score tied and begin to push for the winner. They were given a great chance when Rantanen drew an interference penalty from Brayden Schenn. This chance went as poorly as possible. Colorado could not get set up in the zone and after they got stuffed on a zone entry gave up a breakaway to former Av Brandon Saad. The breakaway came when J.T. Compher was caught unprepared for a Makar drop pass, which allowed Saad to lay heavy pressure on Compher. While trying to get the puck away from Saad, Compher lost his footing and Saad gathered the puck, skated in on Pavel Francouz, and shot it past his blocker to give the Blues the lead with around a minute and a half remaining in regulation.
Fortunately for Colorado, Rantanen channeled his inner Randy Marsh and reminded the Blues that he “didn’t hear no bell”. There was still a minute and a half remaining in the period and the Avalanche still had forty seconds of power-play time on top of that to even the game. The Avalanche used all but nine seconds of the remaining time on the clock when Devon Toews put a shot on net that Binnington deflected to the chest of Compher and landed directly behind Binnington for Rantanen to tap in and tie the game, giving the Avs one point.
These past few years we’ve seen the Avalanche always learn from their mistakes. So after dropping the second point they likely deserved against the New York Rangers on Friday they weren’t gonna let it happen again. The Avalanche won the initial faceoff and gathered possession before breaking into the zone. Valeri Nichushkin took the puck into the Blues zone and dropped the puck for Makar who immediately shot it off Binnington’s pad and Rantanen controlled it and slid into the open net to give the Avalanche the 3-2 overtime win.
This was another encouraging game for the depleted Avalanche team. They controlled most of the game and out-chanced a healthy team. However, they actually won this one. Outside of Rantanen, there weren’t a lot of standouts. I thought most players on the Avalanche just had a nice solid game, something the Avs will take most times with this lineup.
I thought the third line of Jean-Luc Foudy, Ben Meyers, and Charles Hudon was influential in their role. The fact that a week or so ago they were all playing in the AHL their performance for the Avalanche these past two games has been very impressive. They’ve controlled possession well and had their share of quality opportunities, all while limiting the other teams nicely. Two teams that have some solid third lines as well. Ben Meyers is the big key on that line. After a shaky start to the year, it seems like he’s starting to get his play back to the level the Avalanche were hoping to see before the season.
Francouz had a nice game today as well. He wasn’t spectacular but he made some big saves when the Avs needed them. His rebound control was a bit shaky but his puck tracking was the best I’ve seen it in a while.
People had some high expectations for Makar when it came to supplementing the scoring in Nathan MacKinnon’s absence, and he hasn’t lived up to that. However, he’s been shutting it down defensively and has had his fair share of chances. Eventually, the puck will start going in for him again. I do think his minutes need to be scaled back a bit. It’s clear he’s getting a bit tired on occasion.
Last, but certainly not least, the moose. Rantanen has been great all season long and John Buccigross was spot on when he said Rantanen is one of the most unheralded players in the NHL. He can create offense in so many different ways and he’s perfectly fine, even great some nights, in his own zone. In my opinion, he needs to get at least a little talk for the Hart.
The Avs start a five-game home stand against the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. MT.