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Avs’ Penalty Kill
Only part of Colorado’s special teams truly gave them a chance to win tonight. Through three penalty kills, the Avs only allowed four shots on net.
A late kill due to a Too Many Men call in the third period threatened their comeback attempt, but they weathered the disadvantage. Logan O’Connor and Devon Toews put up significant time on the kill along with Andrew Cogliano and Cale Makar. Makar notably played 2:36 of his 27:17 TOI on the PK and allowed just one shot attempt in that time.
Stay with me here. Drouin finished with the second-best Corsi-for-percentage of the forwards on the team. The late comeback push meant score effects inflated those numbers for the top line a bit, but Artturi Lehkonen notably took shifts with the top line in the third period, so much of Drouin’s numbers were more accurately captured from the whole of the game.
He finished with 20:28 TOI, two assists, and three shots on goal. Memorably on the first goal, the puck escaped the offensive zone and Makar worked hard to corral it outside the blueline and angled the puck in. Nico Hischier got to it first, but Makar hounded him from behind and Drouin ultimately forced the turnover and got the puck to Mikko Rantanen.
In addition to forcing the turnover on Rantanen’s goal, Drouin was very engaged, pulling up on skaters in the neutral zone to try the pokecheck and force guys more East-West.
Avs’ Core Four
For the purposes of this evaluation, the Core Four includes Rantanen, Makar, Toews, and Nathan MacKinnon.
MacKinnon is easy to start with because his 14-game point streak was snapped without a point in tonight’s contest. There was a significant degree of try from every player listed here.
MacKinnon led the forwards in ice time and finished with four shots on net and seven additional attempts blocked. Earlier in the contest, his line was dominating most of their matchups.
As the game went on, the powerplay struggled to convert and the shot quality suffered. The stars have to carry some of that accountability.
After a great kill, the top line experienced a series of defensive lapses. in the third period. MacKinnon allowed John Marino to get inside-ice and some missed assignments at the net-front allowed his shot to get through.
Makar played a positive role in Rantanen’s goal and scored one of his own to bring the Avs within one. The level of effort Makar played with on the four-on-four to get his goal alongside his strong play on the kill made him a stud.
But Makar also struggled with his net-front coverage on the Dawson Mercer goal, his pinch on the Jesper Bratt goal contributed to the rush, and his Hail Mary pass-entry attempt in the final seconds led to the empty-net goal.
For Devon Toews, his work on the penalty kill was also exceptional and his pairing with Makar was more often reliable than a liability. However on Bratt’s goal, Toews was also less than stellar.
He tried to defend the two-on-one, but Nico Hischier and Bratt completed a beautiful passing play across the slot which set up Bratt at the short-side post. MacKinnon and Rantanen were the two forwards back. Rantanen took a few strides in the neutral zone and stopped trying to catch up past the defensive blueline. He opted to try and reach out his stick to block the passing lane instead of challenging either skater.
Unfortunately, Toews’ stick was a little more passive than we’re used to and the lane management was wholly ineffective.
While on the subject of Rantanen, his play on the two-on-one was apathetic. On the Marino goal-against, he floated in the low-slot aimlessly.
In the same breath, Rantanen’s goal less than a minute into the contest provided a huge boost for the Avs. Compared to his outing in New York, the try was more evident too. Rantanen finished with four shots on net and two additional attempts blocked.
As you can see, it was a complicated night from some of Colorado’s best players.
It’s tough. If you look at Annunen’s game through one lens, it’s just his sixth ever NHL game at 23-years old and tonight isn’t irredeemable.
But through the lens of “the Avs need a trusted backup NHL goaltender,” Annunen didn’t do enough to earn that nod.
In the first period, especially in the last ten minutes when New Jersey closed in on the shots battle and spent significant time in Colorado’s end, he was swallowing pucks.
He denied Bratt on a breakaway and gave the Avs a chance to win. When you break down the goals-against, the game-winning Marino goal doesn’t reflect well on Annunen (as well as those who missed their assignments in front of him).
Perhaps he could have denied the rebound opportunities on the Mercer goal which led to net-front chaos.
He posted an 0.867 save percentage and made 26 saves on 30 shots. New Jersey created a lot inside home plate, so it was challenging.
The Marino goal-against reinforced the line of separation between a young goalie on the brink and a goaltender ready to graduate to the NHL.
Annunen wasn’t bad, but his performance didn’t instill confidence in his ability to fill an important hole in the Avs lineup.
New Jersey’s depth ate the middle-six up. Excluding Zach Parise, who had among the best possession metrics in 11:05 TOI, generated a shot on net, two takeaways, and a blocked shot, the usually-steady line made up of Ross Colton, Miles Wood, and Logan O’Connor struggled.
Ryan Johansen’s line has seen improvement with the addition of Lehkonen, but they fought the puck tonight too. The middle-six struggled to create meaningful possession.
Colton was specifically challenged by frustrations. He took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for getting vocal with the ref after the Mercer goal-against. Later during some shoves after the whistle, Colton got a little caught up in the heat of the moment and both players involved served matching roughing penalties.
Lehkonen had a big hit on Luke Hughes which facilitated Makar’s goal, worked both special teams again, and took shifts with the top line so his night was not a blight.
More generally, it was just a rough game from the Avs.
The defensemen all struggled in different ways. Sam Malinski’s first period turnover led to a goal-against. Bowen Byram failed his net-front coverage on the Marino goal, and Girard flubbed a clear on the Mercer goal.