We’re back with the Colorado Avalanche weekly report card!
Every game I make note of a couple of standout players and moments, give letter grades to the rest of the roster and the team’s systems, then average those grades out for the week to determine the final report card.
The Avs had a tough week, with a dominant performance in Pittsburgh that ended in an OT loss followed by a disappointing display of offensive ineptitude in Tampa Bay.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sam Girard: Great play on the goal in Pittsburgh and overall was really good that night, pairing with Byram to dominate puck possession and generate a ton of offensive chances.
Then he stepped up nicely with Makar out against the Lightning - his underlying statistics were actually good in Tampa, and he was only on the ice for just one of the goals against - but it was the ugly one where he and Toews let Anthony Cirelli win a puck battle to set up Brandon Hagel. Really didn’t like that play.
Overall, he wins the week with a B+
The goal in Pittsburgh was fantastic. Casey DeSmith was absolutely goalie-ing the Avs all game but playing four-on-four Nate found a way to create space for himself by circling the net and whipping one through traffic that DeSmith just couldn’t see in time. Bo Byram and Girard picked up assists for getting him the puck, and also deserve a ton of credit for flocking to the slot to create all that traffic for MacKinnon to shoot through.
Against the Lightning, he looked good out there for the most part, but just couldn’t get one by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Also is back to bombing away on the powerplay and that strategy also continues to bomb out there. It’s not fully his fault if that’s the system he’s being told to play, but it is not working.
Took an unpenalized headshot from Jeff Carter in Pittsburgh that forced him to miss the Tampa game and likely a few more. No official word, but that must be a concussion – which makes his return for the third period against the Penguins really suspect. Obviously, he cleared protocol and then showed symptoms later, but if the protocol isn’t picking up concussions that is bad. He was fine in that game. Hope he can return soon.
MINDING THE NET
Alexandar Georgiev: Not so hot in Tampa, as no matter who you pin each individual goal on, he gave up five of them. He didn’t lose Colorado the game, but he also didn’t come up with any of the huge stops he’s shown he can make in other games.
Looking at each goal individually, the first was a great play by Corey Perry, the second a weirdly terrible play from Girard and Toews, and the third a flukey bounce after a hand pass (the play was reviewed and somehow not reversed, seemed pretty obviously a puck pushed with the glove to another player...), the fourth I’d like him to stop, and the fifth was goalie interference but Bednar didn’t challenge because Brad Hunt caused it.
Hard to be too mad at Georgiev for all that mess.
Pavel Francouz: Fantastic against the Penguins – he shut the door for two and half periods and just didn’t get enough goal support to win. The poke check on Bryan Rust’s was risky and it didn’t quite work, but without some tough bounces, no one would be too upset about it. Except maybe goalie coach Jussi Parkkila. And, I think it was a stupid risk to take.
What do you think?
ROLE PLAYER HONOR ROLL
Matt Nieto: Had a couple of golden chances in Pittsburgh but DeSmith robbed him, then was largely invisible against the Lightning, but put in some solid PK work. C+
DUNCE CAP IN MY DOGHOUSE DUNGEON
Couldn’t get on the scoresheet other than a ten-minute misconduct penalty in Tampa for smashing his stick after he tried to jump through a guy at the defensive blueline and ended up turning it over for a two-on-one chance that Brandon Hagel buried to make it 4-0.
There could have been a tripping call there, but it was not cut and dry – Rantanen absolutely initiated the contact, putting himself in position to turn the puck over in a bad part of the ice, and got punished for it. Then he made it worse with his outburst of frustration. When the Avs got back on track in January he was keeping his cool – he has to get back to that.
Bowen Byram: Great to see him back in the lineup, obviously, and he looked a little rusty but mostly good in Pittsburgh where he picked up an assist. Then he took too many penalties against the Lightning that led directly to the first and third Tampa goals. C+
Andrew Cogliano: Truly didn’t notice him in either game. C
J.T. Compher: He’s officially in a classic Compher cold streak. He usually finds ways to be effective elsewhere on the ice when this happens, but really didn’t do much this week. C-
Andreas Englund: Threw some solid hits out there in Makar’s spot in Tampa, and avoided the big mistakes that had been getting him benched in January. C+
Brad Hunt: Invisible in Pittsburgh and most of the Bolts game, but showed up when he interfered with Georgiev on the fifth goal. Maroon maybe forced the contact, but I think Bednar didn’t challenge it because it looked like Hunt pushed Maroon into the crease area first. C-
Erik Johnson: Tough time on the PK. Fine at evens. D
Artturi Lehkonen: He hasn’t been creating much of late, and needs to find his way back to producing points consistently. Still love his overall game! C+
Kurtis MacDermid: I’ve talked enough about his actual defense (it’s always bad), and usually I don’t advocate for any vengeance out there because it doesn’t actually help teams win, but why is he in the lineup if not to punish Jeff Carter for head shotting Cale? C-
Dennis Malgin: Refused to finish open looks when he got them or shoot on transition chances when he got those. Lack of finish is a team-wide problem but his was glaring. D
Alex Newhook: He was in the absolute zone before the All-Star Break, and needs to find his way back there after two tough games. His line got bodied in Tampa, the underlying stats are very ugly. C-
Valeri Nichushkin: Looked a little rusty against the Pens, then dominated his ice time in Tampa but just couldn’t create any goals. B
Logan O’Connor: Rough go in Tampa, including a couple of punches to the face from a lost fight with Ross Colton. He had chances against the Penguins though. C-
Evan Rodrigues: Took a puck to the face in Tampa, ending his night early in a game he, Val, and Nate were dominating despite the shutout. Hopefully nothing major. B
Devon Toews: I can’t get over this play.
I don’t get what he’s doing not skating back hard to Hagel here. Maybe he thought Girard would take him? G definitely cut Toews off from covering Cirelli fully, but only because Toews took Cirelli in the first place when Sammy already had him. It’s a terrible miscommunication but it seems like with a beeline to Hagel in the slot Toews could have stopped a goal.
He was mostly his usual steady self in both games but this was brutal. C-
Cannot score. That’s the bottom line, this unit is not producing goals and hasn’t been on a consistent basis since mid-December. Not having Cale Makar in Tampa obviously hurts, but they couldn’t score in Pittsburgh either. 0-for-6 is unacceptable.
I’ve harped on this a lot in this column over the weeks, but it seems to come down to the intention of this system – is MacKinnon’s one-timer from the Ovechkin spot the best way for this team to score goals? It’s clear what they’re trying to do, but in my opinion, that doesn’t make any sense.
MacKinnon is an elite passer who excels at creating space for himself and others with his feet, Makar has elite vision and a wrist shot that consistently sneaks through traffic, and Rantanen’s one-timer is deadly. If I got to design this power play, Nate and Cale would swap places and both be looking to feed Mikko cross-ice passes, with Makar wheeling up from the wall to the point to sneak a wrister through Nichushkin and Lehkonen screens or dish to MacKinnon for a one-timer as a second option.
I’d also encourage more movement. MacKinnon would have the freedom to take pucks around behind the net to create new passing angles or find his own shot like he did to beat DeSmith on Tuesday.
I’m not a professional hockey coach or even an amateur one, so what do I know... But it sure seems like what they’re trying to do isn’t maximizing the strengths of their elite players, and it obviously isn’t working.
In short: Misguided process + zero results = F
Stopped the one power play the Penguins had by drawing a penalty, then absolutely tanked in Tampa. The first goal was an elite hands play by one of this century’s greatest goal-scorers in Corey Perry, but frankly, he should not have that much time and space in front.
I get why Toews left him – he had to go challenge Cirelli, that’s what’s expected of him in this system. What I don’t get is Johnson chasing Alex Killorn out so high. EJ has consistently done this, so it might be the system not him, but he doesn’t have the speed to recover to the net from that in time to be pursuing so aggressively. Ideally to me, he’d put himself at the top of the dot to keep Killorn out high without opening up free space for Cirelli that Toews had ditched the net front to try to fill.
The other two kills actually went mostly well, til a puck bounced funny off Nichushkin and in. The missed hand pass earlier in the play got a lot of attention, but I have a different gripe.
EJ won his puck battle. He pulled the puck to Toews. Then he got tripped by Steven Stamkos and while falling poke the puck away as Toews tried to clear it out, giving it right to an unchecked Hagel who got free because Toews committed to the clearing attempt. Call that an obvious trip!!
Tough night for EJ. Tough night for the PK.
In short: Mostly Solid Process + Tough EJ Stuff + Bad Results = D
Colorado dominated Pittsburgh for two and half periods, and simply got goalied.
It happens. You hate when it’s Casey DeSmith, but it happens. The Penguins are too good to let hang around like that, and they found an extra gear at the end to force overtime, where both teams got chances and one of theirs went in. Frustrating to be sure, but actually a very good even-strength game from Colorado.
In Tampa the chart supports what I was thinking all game – they played decent hockey, but the Lightning created and capitalized on high-danger chances while the Avs made Vasilevskiy look better than he actually is – and he actually is phenomenal, so that’s not easy.
It’s an odd chart - the more Colorado asserted itself and controlled play in the offensive zone, the more Tampa scored. That’s not a recipe for success, but the underlying play might be. They just have to avoid critical mistakes, and stop falling behind in the special teams battle so they can keep things on an even keel at even strength.
In short: Pretty Good Process + Bad Results = C
CLIP OF THE WEEK: MIKKO SMASH!
Mikko! You bad boy! Apologize to your stick and then sit in the box for ten minutes.
Was this honestly worth a 10-minute misconduct? Pretty sure guys smash sticks after bad plays all the time and don’t get dinged for it. You have to hope Mikko said something to earn that penalty because otherwise... well, that would be lame. Something like “hey ref, bad job” or “did you see the part where I got tripped, you FU**!”
TEAM GRADE FOR THE WEEK
The underlying play was surprisingly good for a two-loss week, but this team has to slay its special teams' demons to keep pace in the playoff race. C-