Following the news of Nathan MacKinnon’s indefinite absence due to a suspected hand injury the Colorado Avalanche still had a game to play against fellow division leader in the Calgary Flames. After a gutsy 60-minute effort the Avalanche prevailed in a 2-1 win on the back of two Val Nichushkin power play goals.
Much like the previous game in Minnesota the first period concluded in a scoreless tie. As the game heated up a pivotal moment occurred in the second period in which the Flames received a lengthy 5-on-3 and after several looks finally got on the board at 9:31 from Tyler Toffoli. The Avalanche received their make-up power play shortly after and evened the scored as Val Nichushkin tipped a Cale Makar shot at 13:46.
The Avalanche had another power play in the period but couldn’t convert. The new look unit without MacKinnon had Makar shifted over to the left side where MacKinnon would shoot with Devon Toews up at the point. It’s clear Makar isn’t comfortable yet over there but once he adopts more of a shooting mentality the look could be a good interim solution.
Continuing on the theme of special teams scoring Nichushkin potted his second of the night on a net front redirection play off of a perfectly placed Rantanen pass through the defender’s legs and the Avalanche suddenly had the lead with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
Nazem Kadri took two consecutive minor penalties which the Avalanche had to kill off including in the final seconds with the extra attacker but Darcy Kuemper stood tall and stopped all danger with 44 saves on the night and picked up his 31st win on the season in a 2-1 final score.
It was a physical and fast paced game which had the feel of a playoffs type match. Nico Sturm took a hard hit behind the net but stayed in the game blocking several shots down the stretch. Devon Toews was elbowed in the face and left him in a pool of blood which went uncalled but he returned to the ice for the last penalty kill. It’s clear that even up playoff officiating is starting to take shape as well.
Once again the Avalanche created their only scores on the power play, which it is good practice to take advantage of their opportunities and has helped win games as of late. Outside of the blowouts against the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks the Avalanche have only scored five goals at even strength since Samuel Girard went on the shelf, on the other hand. With so much of the team’s identity and offense generation off of the strength of the back end to only have it confined to one pair right now is showing how much they need Girard and Bowen Byram in the lineup.
Another Avalanche debut, this time with Artturi Lehkonen finally joining the fold. He played just over 12 minutes but got a look on the 5-on-3 penalty kill and second power play unit. Lehkonen’s most visible attributes were his speed and ability to get his shot off through traffic as evidenced by his four shot attempts with three of them considered scoring chances and three shots on goal. It’s clear Lehkonen’s offense has been all but written off in his time with Montreal but it was a good first showing with promise of more to come.
Back at home in the friendly confines of Ball Arena against the San Jose Sharks at 7 p.m. MT on Thursday, March 31st.