It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to talk about a win and boy howdy what a win to get to talk about. The Colorado Avalanche got a massive win over wild card spot competitors the Calgary Flames without the best defenseman in the NHL. There was a lot of good in this game as the Avs continued to roll.
Things started off hot for the Avalanche. Right from the first puck drop they pushed hard to get a strong start, something they’ve made massive strides with in recent games. Colorado had a strong five minutes that Calgary weathered, something they likely felt good about. Unfortunately for them that wasn’t enough.
Beautiful hockey from three key guys for the Avalanche tonight got them the early lead in Calgary. Devon Toews read Calgary’s breakout and pinched at the point to keep the Avs in the zone. JT Compher gathered the loose puck, waited to draw defenders in, then gave a pass to Mikko Rantanen right in his sweet spot. Rantanen ripped a one-timer right over the shoulder of Jacob Markstrom to give the Avs the strong start they desperately needed.
As has been the case a lot in this recent three-game stretch, the Avalanche decided, “Hey this scoring thing is fun. Let’s do it more”. So five minutes later two of the Avs' hottest players connected to double their lead. Nathan MacKinnon beat MacKenzie Weegar to a loose puck right of the faceoff then turned on the afterburners, which Arturri Lehkonen recognized and did the same, creating a two-on-one for Colorado. MacKinnon took the puck almost to the goalline before threading a pass between Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli right to Lehkonen’s stick. Lehkonen tapped it in, but it went through the net that had been pushed up off the ice. The ref initially called it a no-goal, somehow, but then quickly corrected himself and the goal counted.
The Avalanche, specifically Arturri Lehkonen, was not done yet. Less than two minutes later he would strike again on a powerplay that Logan O’Connor drew for Colorado. Nathan MacKinnon got the puck at the top of the circle and dished down low to Mikko Rantanen who tried his Chris Kreider chip shot from the goal line. He didn’t get a lot on it and the puck sailed behind the net. Fortunately for Colorado, it bounced off the end boards right to Lehkonen who deposited it into the empty net.
I could honestly stop there. For the most part, the Avalanche geared things down and kept the Flames from generating much of anything. However, I can’t do that, and truth be told there were still some big moments in this game.
The second period started incredibly slow. The Flames did not appear to care to get back in the game at all and the Avalanche, still injury-depleted, were more than fine to gear things down with their two-goal cushion.
Through the first ten minutes of the second, both teams combined for a measly eleven shots on goal, and almost all came from the outside. Immediately after ten minutes had passed in the period both teams came alive. They played back and forth exchanging chances, but both goalies were dialed in and kept everything out. It was true firewagon hockey. For the Avs, Alexandar Georgiev made some big saves. Multiple times he denied the Flames in close with his left shoulder.
However, after all that, the score stayed 3-0 for the Avalanche heading into the final frame.
The third period rolled around and it was clear the Avs's game plan was to gear things down and rely on Georgiev to help backstop them to the win. That didn’t start off well though.
Ex-Av Nikita Zadorov took a puck from his zone and skated through the neutral zone, using his long reach to protect the puck from the Avalanche, eventually forcing Logan O’Connor to take a hooking penalty. Calgary scored on the ensuing power play when Tyler Toffoli was given space and time to use his talented shot. He ripped the puck through a screen post and in, and Georgiev had no chance. The Flames suddenly had life again with the majority of the period left to get only two more goals.
It wasn’t the Avs' best performance protecting a lead, but given the absence of Cale Makar, one of their best defenders on an already depleted blueline, it’s not a great concern in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, the Avalanche did a good job keeping the Flames from dangerous areas, and when they did Alexandar Georgiev was there to bail them out.
Alexandar Georgiev showing off his impressive reflexes with this save on Trevor Lewis. pic.twitter.com/WBWktG7YVW— Robert Munnich (@RingOfFireCGY) January 19, 2023
As time wound down the Avalanche tightened up a lot more and were getting pucks out any chance they could. Once the Avs' biggest fan, Darryl Sutter, pulled Markstom to give the Flames the extra attacker Colorado did not let Calgary get set up. Eventually, Rantanen sealed the win on an awarded goal when Zadorov slashed the stick out of Rantanen’s hands as a last-ditch effort to prevent his former teammate from scoring. The goal was Rantanen’s second of the game and it gave the Avs their third win inrec a row with a 4-1 victory over the Flames.
There was a lot of good from this game, but I’m going to limit it to three here.
I tweeted about this prior to the game, but with Cale Makar out the Avs three NHL regulars really had to step up tonight, and they did. Devon Toews played like what we saw of him before he got slowed down by injuries and babies. He was constantly breaking up passes and zone entries, one of which translated to a goal. Toews was also effective offensively. He was jumping into rushes and finding the soft spots, a lot like the Toews we’re used to seeing. Sam Girard and Erik Johnson weren’t as dangerous offensively but they both played a big role in this win. Both were playing smart hockey and defending incredibly well. They each had great plays to tip shots wide when the Avs were reeling a bit. They’ve really picked up their play lately and have been big-impact guys for the Avalanche. Not bad for a guy who people want to trade for nothing and a bird playing his 900th NHL game.
Speaking of impressive defensive performances, Nathan MacKinnon was a horse tonight (no not the one on Calgary’s jerseys.) He’s been riding awfully hot since he got back. Even when he wasn’t playing up to snuff he was still producing. Now he’s just been playing great hockey. He’s blowing past guys in the neutral zone, creating time and space, and putting up big points for his team. MacKinnon made Lehkonen’s first goal all by himself by just being Nathan MacKinnon. Not only was he a force offensively but his effort defensively and on the backcheck was incredible. There were a handful of times when he was taking dudes away from the defenseman to defend because he was getting back so fast, even on the tail end of long shifts. His pick-pocketing ability has also become a regular addition to his toolbox.
I mentioned him standing tall for the Avalanche when they needed him earlier but my goodness was Alexandar Georgiev impressive tonight. I had issues with his play coming off of long stretches without playing but a game like this can dispel that well. He was locked in tonight. Made several big saves on Calgary at point-blank, like the aforementioned shoulder saves, and huge glove saves in the third. When Colorado was struggling Georgiev shut the door and it clearly gave the team a big boost of confidence. That’s what you need your goalie to do sometimes and the team is going to need him to keep doing that.
The road trip continues Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Puck drop is at 8:00 p.m. MT.