The Colorado Avalanche returned from a three-day break and a five-game road trip to face the Washington Capitals for the first time this season.
The combination of those first two elements can often be worrisome. A three-day break after playing a game every other day can lead to some rust and teams returning from extended road trips often have a bit of a dip in their first home game back. These weren’t issues for the Avs tonight as they cruised to two points of the Washington Capitals.
As previously mentioned rust and the awkward return home can often plague teams, we’ve seen it with the Avalanche before and we saw it again to start this game. It was a pretty sluggish start for Colorado as they spent most of the first period in their zone and took the first two penalties of the game.
They gained their legs about halfway through the first, which helped them on their second penalty kill late in the period. It was an incredibly effective kill in which the Avalanche made it difficult for the Capitals to even leave their half of the ice. Colorado pressured the Capitals hard on their zone entry causing a turnover to Cale Makar. Rested Makar is something we hadn’t seen for a while before this game and boy howdy is he a different animal when he’s not overworked. Makar forced the turnover at his own blue line and rammed it right down Washington’s throat. He then beat Charlie Lindgren with a wicked wrister glove side and the Avs were able to enter the second with a lead.
The last 10 minutes of the period and the Makar goal certainly gave a built of hope that the Avs would have a better start to the second period. That hope was certainly justified.
Two minutes into the second the Avalanche got their chance at a powerplay after successfully killing off two of Washington’s. Where the Capitals failed the Avs flourished. Makar and Mikko Rantanen played some pitch and catch before Rantanen reversed the roles on the Avs's typical man-advantage one-timer play. He made the royal road pass right to Nathan MacKinnon and the fun began.
The Capitals didn’t learn their lesson and five minutes later the Avalanche were back on the powerplay. Yet again Rantanen and Makar slang the puck back and forth but this time it was Cale Makar who got to do the honors of setting MacKinnon up for the one-timer. Different setup, same result. Two powerplay one-timer for MacKinnon, two goals.
A hair over six minutes since his first goal MacKinnon and Rantanen found themselves on a 2-on-1 after an extended 5-on-5 shift in their own zone. The Avs couldn’t pick two better guys for the odd-man rush. Unfortunately, they were on their offsides, thus eliminating the one-timer option. Fortunately, they’re incredibly talented hockey players so it didn’t make any difference. Rantanen slid the puck to MacKinnon past the Caps defender and rather than catching and shooting MacKinnon added some flair. He showed incredible patience by attacking Lindgren with the puck, deking to get him to drop, and then roofing the puck back bar. Just like that Nathan MacKinnon scored the Avs's first natural hat trick since Joe Sakic in March of 2003 (I wasn’t even alive then.)
Unfortunately for the Avs, there was a lengthy delay as the hats were cleaned from the ice. Not only that but a wire in the protective netting got messed up, extending the delay even further. It was clear the Avalanche lost a bit of their momentum from this as their play took a step back in the final half of the period. Georgiev stood tall and kept the Capitals at zero and Colorado carried a cushy four-goal lead into the third.
Despite having played the night before Washington had a strong pushback to start the third. They spent a lot of time in the Avs zone and went without reward until a defensive breakdown led to Dylan Strome standing alone in front of the Avs net. Strome made a nifty shot and cut the Avs lead to three.
Make that 1️⃣7️⃣ for 1️⃣7️⃣ pic.twitter.com/LFkY26kGNB— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 25, 2024
This woke the Avs up as their top line got back to work. They created a flurry of chances before Jonathan Drouin passed a puck to a crashing Rantanen. The puck was intended for a tip but it somehow popped straight up. Rantanen then used his impressive hand-eye coordination, an underrated trait of his, to hit the puck out of midair and restore the Avs four-goal lead.
That Rantanen goal effectively sealed the game but Nathan MacKinnon wasn’t done yet. A funky string of penalties led to both teams playing at 4-on-4 for a brief time. In that time MacKinnon notched his second four-goal game of the year when he wired a puck post and in past Lindgren’s blocker.
The only thing left in this game was the buzzer but a defensive breakdown left Dylan Strome wide open in front of the Avs net yet again and yet again he made the Avs pay. This gave the game its 6-2 final.
It was a strong game from the Avs. There were some stretches where there was definite improvement but in the second to last game before the All-Star Game, all that matters is the win.
MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Makar all dominated this game like it was nothing earning five, five, and three points respectively. It is truly difficult to say things about these three that haven’t already been said so I won’t even bother. What I will say is that Makar and Rantanen appreciated those three days off because that is the best I have seen them in a bit.
Alexandar Georgiev was another person who appreciated said rest. I thought the Avs should’ve rested him today, maybe even both gamed before the break, but clearly, he didn’t need it. He was stellar in the first two periods, stymieing the Capitals and keeping the Avs in front when the team in front of him was struggling. It’s nice to see a game from Georgiev that’s more replicable. Two goals is a much more realistic standard than zero or four.
Bowen Byram and Artturi Lehkonen both looked strong in their return from injury. Hoping to see Lehkonen return to form and Byram improve his game from the first half of the year.
The Avs have one more game before the much-needed All-Star break when they take on the Los Angeles Kings this Friday at 7:00 p.m. MT. Mile High Hockey will have you covered.