We’re back with the Colorado Avalanche weekly report card! Sorry if you missed it last week, other life concerns got in the way and unfortunately, I was not able to get this column out. I would have given your favorite player an A and your least favorite an F.
This week the Avs beat the bad teams! ... and lost to the good team. The Minnesota loss had a lot of fans online quite upset with the boys in burgundy, but were they actually good despite picking up the L? Let’s find out.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Valeri Nichushkin: This was sick!!!
Val was great all week, and single-handedly willed the Avs to that Arizona win while the rest of the team was letting the Yotes back in it. Potted one in Anaheim too for good measure, and then couldn’t beat Gustavsson but was a wrecking ball on both ends of the ice against the Wild.
Nothing bad that happened to anyone in the whole world was Val’s fault this week – he was fully him out there. A+
Nathan MacKinnon: 1 goal, 1 assist
A two-point week for Nate could only not be disappointing if they only played one game. They played three, and both the Wild and the Coyotes kept him off the scoresheet.
So the results were not there, but his actual play was normal dominant MacKinnon –MacK decimated the Wild in all underlying metrics but just could not get pucks to go in. He led all forwards in Expected Goals For percentage and Corsi For percentage on the night but Filip Gustavsson stood strong and kept everything out. Sometimes even the best players get goalied.
But if you want good grades it’s not enough to just study, you have gotta finish your homework.
Cale Makar: 2 assists
Cale also got blanked by Arizona and Minnesota, but he didn’t look nearly as good as MacKinnon doing it. His turnover at the point on the powerplay sprung Fredrick Gaudreau for the shorthanded goal that ended up being the Wild’s game-winner, and though his night overall did look good on paper it was clear he was having trouble getting his skates to cooperate so his hands and mind could work their magic. He had an off night and still put up quality underlying stats – he’s that good.
His underlyings were rough in Arizona and not much better in Anaheim, which makes the Minnesota stats encouraging to me – he was able to raise his game against a quality opponent, and it took great goaltending and defensive work for the Wild to hold him back.
But again, finish that homework, please.
Mikko Rantanen: 2 goals, 1 assist
You can look at Mikko Rantanen as the reason Colorado pulled out a win in Arizona despite taking their foot off the gas in the third period, or as the guy who personally removed that foot and caused the near collapse. By counting stats, his two points on seven shots in that game carried the team to victory. By metrics, however, he stunk. Arizona managed two goals with Mikko on the ice and both were due to defensive lapses you can pin on the big guy.
He was fine in Anaheim, and then put in the work against Minnesota but could not hit the net to save his life. For a guy who’s nearly at 50 goals, some of those misses were inexplicable – though perhaps the pressure of the big five-oh had him trying to be too perfect with his shots. One he wired just outside the open top right corner in the second period could have swung the game, but with a Wild defender’s foot and Gustavsson’s outstretched glove to navigate he just pushed it wide. When he’s really on his game, Mikko hits that with his eyes closed.
But you can’t get credit for homework that misses the inbox. I’m loving this homework bit.
MINDING THE NET
Not his best week but no real complaints to air about Georgiev, though the Clayton Keller spinorama goal definitely shouldn’t have caught him so flat-footed.
POINT #80— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) March 26, 2023
CLAYTON KELLER pic.twitter.com/s9Frb0Tlyf
He just didn’t expect it, and ideally, a goalie is ready for a surprise shot at all times. Against Minnesota, I think he’d like another crack at the Gaudreau shorthanded goal, but breakaways go in sometimes and I won’t hold that against him. It is not great to see him outdueled by Filip Gustavsson, to be honest, but hey that’s hockey – goalies get hot.
29 saves on 30 shots is no joke, even if they all came off the sticks of Anaheim Ducks. 10 of them were high-danger chances and he shut it down after getting hung out to dry on this one:
Ducks Out First ✅— Anaheim Sports (@AnaheimSports1) March 28, 2023
Derek Grant (5) Goal
Jakob Silfverberg (15) Assist
Jonas Johansson Against
Colorado Avalanche 0 - Anaheim Ducks 1 1st
Credit: Ballys#COLvsANA #LetsGoDucks #FlyTogether pic.twitter.com/jO5wk5LYaY
Hey, if that’s the only thing that beats you in a game you basically got a shutout because that’s some unstoppable garbage your defense inflicted on you – looking at you Cale.
ROLE PLAYER HONOR ROLL
Devon Toews: There have been hiccups in his game more frequently this season than last, but Toews continues to be a rock out there in all situations. He weirdly struggled in Anaheim, but notched assists in the Wild and Coyote games and led the team in underlying statistics in Minnesota.
Not really a role player, but still he’s getting this incredible honor. A-
DUNCE CAP IN MY DOGHOUSE DUNGEON
Lars Eller: That Arizona game has me worried – he was brutally bad in the third and a prime culprit in allowing the Yotes' comeback. Eller bounced back with great underlyings in Anaheim and a goal in Minnesota, but he was brought in to defend top-six forwards and if that part of his game showed some cracks against Arizona it’s easy to imagine it cracking completely against actual NHL teams - let alone playoff squads. C-
Bowen Byram: Bo scored his 10th goal in 38 games on a breakaway against Minnesota. That’s a 22-goal pace for a full season. That’s very good. He’s got to shore up his defensive zone consistency but the kid they call Hot Rod has a hot stick. B+
Andrew Cogliano: Gets banged around out there while he’s banging around. Managed to stay out of the box this week, which is a positive development. C+
J.T. Compher: Absolutely decimated the Ducks in underlying stats, but managed just one point on the week. Needs some true second-line wingers next to him. C+
Sam Girard: Hate to see him outmuscled by Sam Steel like this:
Sam Steel really put his back into that one. pic.twitter.com/4jmSEq7wzk— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 30, 2023
But overall the good version of Sammy G has been the version we’re getting night in and night out – and that’s a big key to this team’s success. B
Darren Helm: He’s back from the dead! Didn’t do much but happy to see him alive. C+
Erik Johnson: He’s back from the dead! Didn’t do much but happy to see him alive. C+
Jack Johnson: Barely noticed him out there – and that’s a good thing. C+
Dennis Malgin: Got his shot on the top line and did not capitalize – he’s just not quite a top-six player despite the flashes he has shown. C-
Alex Newhook: Put up great underlying stats all week but just can’t buy a goal. Whistled one barely high and wide on the powerplay against the Wild. B
Matt Nieto: He allegedly played all three games, and even picked up an assist! But I didn’t see him anywhere. C
Logan O’Connor: LOC is so consistent, it’s hard to find anything interesting to say here. B
Evan Rodrigues: His one assist in Anaheim was nice, but that’s not enough from ERod. C
POWERPLAY: 2 goals on 10 chances
They needed to convert on the powerplay against Minnesota but instead gave up two shorthanded goals while generating just two shots – one in the 6-on-4 situation at the end of the game. That snapped a 12-game powerplay goal streak, so overall the unit is still delivering consistently, but I can’t in good conscience give out a good grade after that putrid showing.
Shot generation looks a lot better – they had seven attempts blocked and four go wide, including the Mikko chance I mentioned earlier and a couple of other very near misses from MacKinnon and Nichushkin – so the process is still in a good place. But man, that first shorty was backbreaking and the second was a stupid empty netter from 150 feet away to seal the game.
They were effective in going one for three in both other games, but the real test for the week was the Minnesota game, and they failed it hard.
In short: Very good process + Mid results + two terrible shorthanded goals that cost them a chance to take the lead in the central division = D
PENALTY KILL: 9 kills on 9 chances
Perfection. No notes.
In short: Excellent Process + Perfect Results = S++
Despite the loss to Minnesota, the worst even-strength stretch of the week was the third period in Arizona. The Anaheim game was too easy to really factor into the grade, so we’re basically looking at four good periods for Colorado in the first and second against Arizona and Minnesota, and then a terrible third that let the Yotes force overtime and a dominant third that should have led to an Avs win if not for fantastic play from Filip Gustavsson.
This graph is exactly right for how the team looked via eye test in Arizona – they chugged along building up to a dominant second period and then fully cratered and let the Coyotes back in.
Some credit is due to Arizona for digging in and earning overtime, but the Avalanche sat back and let it happen and that is unacceptable – and they knew it.
Colorado did not let it happen against Anaheim, despite giving up the first goal on a terrible Cale Makar turnover.
As I said, too easy to really factor in. Anaheim is very bad right now, and that’s how they like it down there. The OC is a bad place.
And then the Wild came to town and did not earn a victory, but got one.
Look, there’s a lot to complain about from Colorado’s game Thursday night. The powerplay was hot French garbage in the streets of Paris. Cale Makar’s skate blades were sticking to the ice like the trainers wiped them off with gorilla glue. Mikko Rantanen couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if it fell on him and asked him nicely to hit it on the way down. But not the even-strength play. That was good for two periods and then truly elite in the third.
Despite ending on a loss, this was a very encouraging week for the Avs at even strength.
In short: Great Process + Mostly Good Results = A-
CLIP OF THE WEEK: Welcome Jason Polin!
Nothing particularly funny happened this week, so I’ll use this space to highlight the Avs's exciting new college free agent from a surprisingly large incoming class – Jason Polin!
30 goals in the NCAA season is a huge feat – so huge he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s best college hockey player. He’s an intriguing pickup who could push for NHL ice time next year, though he doesn’t project as a 30-goal NHL-er.
TEAM GRADE FOR THE WEEK
I hated the powerplay against Minnesota and the third period in Arizona. Those two facets of the Avs week plus the statistical no-show from Colorado’s stars are enough to tank the grade – but they did pick up 4 of 6 possible standings points and the team’s underlying play continues to be promising so it’s not a full Petard for Bedard or anything. C+