The Colorado Avalanche found a new way to lose tonight, absolutely dominating the first and third periods and both sides of special teams only to let a couple of nifty plays from Connor Bedard in the first and a couple of nitpicky penalties in the third sink them, ultimately losing 3-2 in Chicago.
Coming into this game Chicago looked like an injured gazelle, fallen behind its herd just waiting for a cheetah to pounce. Colorado was poised to be that cheetah, and for the first six minutes of the game, the savannah was drowned in an Avalanche.
The Avs dominated puck possession and the shot chart, as Chicago didn’t manage a single shot until six minutes into the game. But then on their second shot, the prey became the predator.
Bowen Byram tried to dance through young phenom Connor Bedard in the high slot of his own defensive zone and lost the handle. Bedard collected the puck and found Nikita Zaitsev at the top of the far circle and his shot clanged off the iron behind a stunned Alexandar Georgiev, but the rebound hit Ryan Donato and fell to his feet in the crease for an easy tap in goal.
Connor Bedard➡️Nikita Zaitsev➡️Ryan Donato— Talkin’ Hawkey (@TalkinHawkey) December 20, 2023
Donato follows up on Zaitsev’s shot for his 5th goal of the season to put the #Blackhawks ahead 1-0! Great play by Bedard to force a turnover & get that pass over to Zaitsev.pic.twitter.com/8b6ZfedhlN
The Avalanche responded well, as a strong shift by the first line saw Nathan MacKinnon nearly slide through a Nick Foligno hit at the far hash marks. Foligno stuck his knee out to cut him off and got called for tripping.
The ensuing powerplay scored and scored far. Jonathan Drouin won the draw and got everything set up. Toews dished from the point to MacKinnon in his spot, where Nate and Drouin played catch until Drouin found Valeri Nichushkin in the slot for an easy one-time goal. Mikko Rantanen’s net drive from the far side drew the defender away from Val and forced him open on a well-designed play.
On the next shift, Connor Bedard was called for holding Joel Kiviranta’s stick while he was breaking out of the zone, giving the big boys another shot on the man advantage and a chance to take the lead their play thus far in the game seemed destined to find.
And find it they did. After some good setups that couldn’t quite find the right shot, Nichushkin and Rantanen played catch at the bottom of the far circle. Val then parked himself in front of the net and Mikko found his stick blade with a laser of a pass. Mrazek was able to hold off the initial tip, but Val cleaned up the rebound to pot his second straight powerplay goal of the game.
Back at even strength the Avs kept the pressure on until Donato tipped a pass past Toews in the neutral zone that Bedard picked up and dished across to Lukas Reichel who beat Georgiev clean on the third Blackhawk shot of the game.
Lukas Reichel scores his first goal since Nov. 30 and third of the season pic.twitter.com/qzpjCpTmo6— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) December 20, 2023
Jack Johnson ran into Donato and couldn’t follow Bedard, but ultimately Georgiev can’t be giving up two goals on three shots no matter how good the guy dishing the assists is - and Bedard is very good, both goals were excellent offensive plays.
Colorado didn’t seem to let it phase them, though, as Nichushkin nearly scored three more times the rest of the period, once on a slot feed from Rantanen, once on a tip attempt from Toews, and once on a cross-ice feed from MacKinnon that was tipped barely wide by Connor Murphy.
It was a really strong period from Colorado, but Bedard got loose twice and set up two goals. If not for a couple of power play tallies they would have been down despite dominating possession and chances, but they did draw those penalties and convert on both chances, so they got out of the period tied.
The second period started the same way as the first, only it was Chicago completely dominating play as Colin Blackwell spent the entire first shift forcing turnovers and putting pucks on Georgiev.
The Hawks worked the puck around for a point shot that got through the five-hole but hit the post and stayed on the goal line until Byram poked it through the crease and out of danger.
Miles Wood was then called for interference when he hit Donato by the boards away from the play for no apparent reason. His skate lace got cut so Drouin served for him while he got repairs done, and the PK made short work of Chicago’s man advantage, giving up just one shot that Georgiev easily shouldered up and over the net.
Connor Murphy was then called for interference for reaching out to slow down MacKinnon off the puck, and Colorado’s powerplay got another chance but couldn’t get enough shots through to Mrazek to threaten despite strong possession and creative chance creation.
This seemed to deflate the Avs a bit, as they let Chicago control play for several minutes until Kurtis MacDermid was forced to hook Blackwell in the high slot to prevent a scoring chance. The PK worked hard yet again, blocking the only two Chicago shot attempts neatly.
Though Colorado still outshot Chicago, the second period was truly a win for the home team as they dominated the first five minutes of the period, drew two penalties, and managed to kill one of their own. Mrazek and Georgiev both stepped up in this period, making up for their leaky play in the opening frame.
The Avalanche started this one poised to find the go-ahead goal as all four lines established themselves in the offensive zone and generated chances.
Mikko got himself free in the high slot but couldn’t beat Mrazek. Ryan Johansen and Logan O’Connor cycled and set up a Sam Malinski one-timer that missed wide. Even MacDermid got in on the offense with a wraparound bid that created a rebound Kiviranta nearly potted, but Mrazek made two excellent saves.
Then the refs decided to tighten the standard for penalty calls, starting with a holding call on Nichushkin when his stick got tied up in the net and got in Connor Murphy’s way. The PK handled its business neatly, though Cole Guttman got free in the slot for a shot that he missed wide.
Back at even strength for a moment, Miles Wood got called for holding the stick when he and Reichel tangled up at the blue line. He was not happy with the call as it didn’t appear any holding had occurred, and unfortunately giving any NHL team four cracks at the man advantage is not a recipe for success.
After an initial clear on the faceoff, Bedard gained the zone and dished across the blue line to Zaitsev who tapped it down the wall to Foligno who relayed it to Tyler Johnson on the back post for an easy tap-in. Bedard drew both Nichushkin and Olofsson on the entry and it broke the coverage completely.
To add insult to injury, Wood was then assessed another two minutes and a 10-minute misconduct for complaining about the call on his way back to the bench. The PK did its job, but the damage was done - the Avs lost a ton of time for their comeback attempt and the Hawks fed on the energy taking the lead gave them to defend Mrazek’s net like a knight for his queen.
Colorado dominated possession and chances the rest of the way, but it didn’t matter. Mrazek and his defenders formed an unbreakable shell that not even a Sam Malinski feed to Mikko in the slot with an open net could break - The Moose was too loose with his aim and missed wide.
With the goalie pulled and two minutes to go, Mackinnon was decked in the back by Blackwell but got up in time to try a one-timer but his stick broke. Toews held it in and fed Drouin but he hit a skate. LOC got a nice tip on a Mikko shot but Mrazek swallowed it up.
Bednar called timeout, and MacKinnon used it to debate why the hit wasn’t boarding with the referee, though of course that didn’t change his mind.
Johansen won the next faceoff and the puck cycled over to Rantanen for a shot that Mrazek easily gloved. Drouin took a brutal crosscheck and a fracas ensued. RyJo came to his defense and every Hawk took swipes at him, and somehow Johansen was given 4 minutes and Isaak Philips only 2.
That put the next faceoff in the Avs end instead of the Hawks, and that was all she wrote. Colorado will look to continue their strong play but maybe put a couple more pucks in the net on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators in Denver.
- I’m not generally one to talk about refereeing after a loss - there are so many other reasons teams lose games even when calls seem to go against them - but this third period felt bizarre from the stripes. The standard of play set in the first two periods was out the window quickly as both the Nichushkin and Wood penalties came on plays that happened all night long without a second look, and then the Blackwell no-call was honestly shocking. Consistency and transparency from referees would be nice, but we just don’t get that.
- Georgiev was outplayed by Mrazek. I’m not saying he was bad, just ... worse. Mrazek was really good. It continues a trend for Georgiev of late, though this was much better than the Calgary debacle.
- Overall the team did play well, but obviously finding scoring from outside the top power play unit is a must to win games. The middle six has to find a way to produce, and right now only Drouin is looking dangerous.
That looks pretty good, right? But it doesn’t matter if you can’t beat PETR MRAZEK!
The Avs head home to face the Ottawa Senators Thursday night, with puck drop at 7:00 p.m. MT.