No comeback kids this time.
A 12-goal scoring fest saw the Florida Panthers knock off the Colorado Avalanche, ending 8-4 by the time the final horn blew. The Avalanche’s winning streak ends at four games, while Florida increases its winning streak to seven games, rolling through opponents night in and night out.
Ultimately, even with the Avs doing their best to make it a third straight comeback win, it was too big of a hole to climb themselves out of. With this matchup being the first of many hard games coming up in the schedule, Colorado has their work cut out for them to get back to business.
The damage would be done early and often by the Panthers. Just 1:10 into the game, Carter Verhaeghe would find the puck right in front after a missed clearance, and put it over the shoulder of Ivan Prosvetov.
Sam Reinhart, Florida’s top goalscorer, would quickly follow suit with a deflection in front. Just three minutes into the game, the Panthers had a two-goal lead.
The Avs would remain flat and looked to have nothing on offense. Ross Colton did his best to stir something up, but couldn't get a great wraparound chance to go in. It would come back to bite him, as going the other way Reinhart got his second of the game on a breakaway, and a third for Florida not even halfway through the period.
Even after Joel Kiviranta was high-sticked by Aleksander Barkov drawing blood, Colorado couldn’t conquer the four-minute powerplay. Fans in attendance were kept quiet for the rest of the period with the Panthers still controlling the play, with Jared Bednar hoping the intermission couldn’t come soon enough to draw something up.
Whatever Bednar said in the locker room worked. Just 52 seconds into the frame, the Avs responded not just once, but twice. Both came from defensemen, first from Cale Makar at 21 seconds slotting one home from the near circle and then a Josh Manson slapshot hitting everything in front of the net to squib over the goal line.
With the Avalanche alive and pushing, all hell would break loose from none other than Matthew Tkachuk. He ran at Sam Girard after some contact with Sergei Bobrovsky and earned himself a four-minute roughing penalty.
It gave Colorado a powerplay which they took advantage of, thanks to Valeri Nichushkin deflecting Makar’s shot into the net. Just 4:35 into the second, the Avs went from 3-0 down to tied at three.
But the tie would not last long once again. Ivan Prosvetov struggled to find a seeing-eye shot from the point from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, giving Florida the lead once again.
Prosvetov’s game would be done, as he was pulled for Alexandar Georgiev. Georgie would get into the action early, with this diving poke check right after coming in. Despite getting hit hard in the head with a shin, he would stay in the game.
Florida still controlled most of the puck possession in the second half of the period, and created a few odd-man rushes thanks to Colorado’s lapse in defense. Manson continued to look good on both sides of the ice though, breaking up a great 3-on-1 chance for the Panthers with a sliding block.
Despite the Avs being unable to convert on a Ryan Lomberg tripping penalty, they had given themselves a chance. With 20 minutes to go, the Avs were down 4-3 looking to finish the comeback once again.
The Avalanche looked as though they were rolling once again, with another game-tying goal. This one came from the confident Jonathan Drouin, going around Niko Mikkola and beating Bobrovsky on the breakaway.
But then, the Avs would shoot themselves in the foot in a big way. Two back-to-back penalties came from Colton high-sticking Evan Rodrigues for a double-minor. Then, Logan O’Connor threw the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, also hurting a fan in the process.
This led to a ton of open ice for a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play for Florida. They would flourish, with Reinhart finishing his hat-trick to extend the lead to 5-4.
Even after killing off the remaining powerplay time, the Avs looked to have a chance to tie it once again. Before even getting a chance to do so, Kevin Stenlund surprised everyone with a backhander off the faceoff to make it a two-goal advantage.
Even after, the Avs couldn’t muster up much offense with Florida shutting down the play and clogging up the neutral zone. Colorado would pull Georgiev not once, but twice. leading to two empty-netters from Matthew Tkahuck and Verhaeghe to double the Avs in an 8-4 final.
Overall, despite the high-scoring of this matchup, the main difference came in the opening 10 minutes of the first period. Down 3-0 early put the Avs behind the eight-ball, and left them playing catch-up. While it’s worked the last few games, you can never outscore all of your problems - even if those who do all the goalscoring are asleep to start the game too. Colorado needs to find its game similar to what it had in its last game before the holiday break against the Arizona Coyotes, its last 60-minute performance from the team.
The main problem at least in this matchup was the defense. Of course, letting in three goals in the first half of the first period will not help their case. But even after catching up on the scoreboard themselves, the Avs' defense still faltered. They couldn't get in front of pucks and were leaving lots of gaps for Florida to capitalize on. It didn’t help with Prosvetov being unable to stop many shots, and Georgiev being called into action rather than getting rest as scheduled in this game. In the end, allowing eight goals on 29 shots (albeit two of them empty-netters) won’t win you hockey games.
It was a noticeable difference and surprise to see Miles Wood out of the lineup with illness. His tenacity on the ice and ability to push teams back were missing in this matchup. It could’ve made a difference earlier on in the game, but again, working from behind isn’t the best way to win hockey games for the Avalanche. One of those games where the film will be studied plenty to figure out how to turn this team in the right direction, even without players like Wood, Artturi Lehkonen, or Bowen Byram. Speaking of Byram, his lower-body injury is being reported to be longer-term according to Katie Gaus, leaving more questions about the Avs defense moving forward.
Colorado hosts another big Eastern Conference game between the Atlantic-leading Boston Bruins on Monday night. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. MT.