Somehow I continue to find my way to writing pieces about devastating Avalanche losses. It’s cathartic in a way but I would be lying if I said it was any fun to have to think about this game any more than I did during that game.
Not much negative to say about the first five minutes of the game for the Colorado Avalanche. They were buzzing. It felt like they spent every possible second in the Anaheim Ducks’ zone, and they weren’t wasting said zone time either. John Gibson was faced with a constant barrage of pucks in his direction and it didn’t cease until the Avs finally put one past him. The Avs' second line of Mikko Rantanen, J.T. Compher, and newly reacquired Matt Nieto were doing work in the Ducks’ zone to start the game. After a few shifts of impressive cycles and heavy pressure a puck that was thrown on net by Cale Makar found its way to Mikko Rantanen, who was sitting on the far post with an empty net. Safe to say the Avs' leading goal scorer wasn’t going to miss that one.
Things continued to be heavily tilted in the Avs' way. Everything they were doing before the goal continued after. Even when Frank Vatrano tied the game up almost 10 minutes into the game. There was nothing really the Avalanche skaters could have done much better on the goal. Vatrano fired a low-percentage shot from high in the zone and instead of catching the puck or even controlling the rebound, Pavel Francouz batted the puck right back up the middle of the ice. Vatrano followed his shot, put the rebound passed Francouz’s glove and the game was tied.
That goal seemed to rattle the Avalanche a bit. They weren’t pressing nearly as hard and they seemed to want to pass the puck in the net, something this team is no stranger to doing. However, they still controlled play and continued to pepper Gibson with shots. None more went in on either side and the game remained 1-1.
The Avs saw what worked in the first period and decided to replicate it in the second. They started the period off with heavy pressure and capitalized almost immediately to restore their lead. Nathan MacKinnon did his best Makar impression on this one. He got the puck at the point, shook an Anaheim defender, and dished a pass-through a mass of humanity right to Sam Girard’s tape on the back door. Girard might not be leading the Avs in scoring but it would have been hard for him to miss that one. He didn’t and the Avs went up 2-1.
Yet again they continued to push for the remaining first half of the period. However, this time when they let up, they let up hard. They weren’t getting dominated, but they struggled to get any offense going and found themselves caught in their own zone on multiple occasions. Fortunately, some power plays (an Avalanche power play? In this day and age? Located entirely within Ball Arena? Who’d have thought!) helped settle things back down.
Colorado’s first attempt with the man advantage wasn’t too pretty, but immediately after, they caused some chaos and were able to (kind of) get Gibson to take a delay of game penalty. The Avalanche's first unit did a lot of overpassing to start the team's second powerplay. Still, the second unit, plus Mikko Rantanen, was eager to make the most of their opportunity. They created a few chances and then Mikko Rantanen pulled out a classic when he ripped a one-time feed from Girard over the same glove Gibson used to push the net off.
Then the collapse began. The shift immediately following Rantanen’s goal was a horror show for Colorado. Their third line with Erik Johnson and Kurtis MacDermid on the back end got worked for a solid minute or so. They had an abundance of opportunities to clear the puck, but they just didn’t take them. It cost them and Vatrano stuffed his second of the game between Francouz’s left skate and the post. Instead of riding into the third period with a much more comfortable two-goal lead the Avalanche now how to hold on to a one-goal lead.
Funny thing about teams that are trying to tank. Not very often are the players also on board with the tank. They still want to win hockey games. A memo the Avalanche clearly didn't get. All this to say the Avalanche got their lunch handed to them to start the third period. It was effectively the inverse of what they did to the Ducks in the two periods prior. It was not pretty. The only positive to come from that stretch was when they killed a Matt Nieto penalty. Unfortunately, that kill didn’t mean a whole lot because the Avs again got stuck in their zone and Anaheim’s best player made them pay.
Troy Terry was pretty quiet up until this point in the game. Not a whole lot from the Colorado native through the first fifty minutes of action. That didn’t matter because all a good player needs is one play and that’s what Terry got. He walked out from the corner uncontested and laid the puck on a tee for Adam Henrique, who fought through Johnson’s coverage to put the puck past Francouz and tie the game.
This goal gave Anaheim life. Much like their namesake they smelled blood and attacked (kind of). After the goal, the Avalanche pushed back as they were clearly woken up by the Henrique tally. Francouz did not get the memo. Mason McTavish walked in one-on-one with Makar, who defended the rookie center well. Similar to the Vatrano goal the shooter was kept to the outside and was forced to take an innocent shot. Somehow it wasn’t so innocent as the shot found its way under Francouz’s glove and into the back of the net to give the Ducks the lead.
Full credit to the Avalanche. Despite their lackluster play for the first half of the third they did wake up and start pushing back the final ten minutes. In the last five minutes alone the team had a myriad of chances from right in front of the Anaheim net. They just couldn’t finish them. They weren’t trying to force them through Gibson’s pad or anything either, they had quality looks at wide-open nets. They just couldn’t finish. That was the only thing that failed in the last few minutes. It cost them and eventually, Vatrano got the puck at the red line and iced the game with his hat trick goal to end the Avalanche’s six-game winning streak.
I’m going to keep this brief, because all in all this wasn’t the disaster of a game some, including myself on Twitter, made it out to be.
You don’t love the Avs just letting one of the worst teams in the league back in this game. I’m not going to make any excuses for that. That is unacceptable and the team can’t continue to do that. They have one of the weakest strengths of schedule remaining in the league. They have ten games left against teams in the bottom five in the league. Life is going to be pretty hard for them if they continue to drop games like this. We’ve seen they can play about as close to a full sixty-minute hockey game as possible, even with the current roster. Even without Valeri Nichsushkin, they need to be better against inferior teams.
Colorado’s top six was responsible for all of their goals tonight, and if they could have gotten some finish late in the game they would be even better. I wasn’t pleased with their performance to start the third, but they were far from the problem tonight. Definitely need a more consistent effort from them though.
Makar, Toews, and Girard were even pretty good tonight. They defended well and had their share of offensive creation. Both the goals Makar and Toews were on the ice for were very little fault of their own. Girard wasn’t on the ice for any goals against tonight, scored one himself, and was the primary assist on Rantanen’s second goal. He continues to silence the haters and stay hot. If he can keep that up that’s big for the Avs.
Now for the negative. Francouz has been great as of late but it’s hard to imagine anyone is pleased with the game he had tonight. He was shaky and all over the place when he wasn’t letting in goals, and the goals he let in were brutal, to say the least. I’m not gonna rip on the guy too hard but he needs to come up with a save on any of the first, second, and/or fourth goals of the game. On a night when the other goaltender was standing on his head, Francouz needs to rise to the occasion better. It wasn’t all on him, but boy goaltending was a big part of the difference for Colorado tonight.
On Saturday the Avalanche face a St. Louis Blues team that just got pumped 5-0 against the Arizona Coyotes. After dropping this one there’s a lot of pressure on Colorado to get the two points against a division rival. Oh, and it’s their last game before the All-Star break. Yeah, definitely got to win that one.