The obvious guys
Eight players had multi-point nights tonight, led by Joel Kiviranta’s three (1g, 2a) and Cale Makar (3a). There were only five Avalanche skaters to not register a point tonight, so instead of doing extended write-ups on each of those players I’m taking the obvious way out and saying all of those guys were really good. I’ll single out a couple of my favorites but if you thought someone else was really good, too, you are probably right.
Kiviranta has 31 regular-season points in his career after tonight, meaning 9.6% of his career scoring happened in this hockey game. Pretty good night for him. It was an impressive hard-working performance from him as he fit in wonderfully on Colorado’s fourth line.
Val Nichushkin was a behemoth all game, starting with his zone entry that led to his first goal and gave Colorado the 2-0 lead. He was hard on pucks all game and combined his excellent skating with his large frame to be too much for the Ducks to handle. Two deflection goals were good for the Avalanche to have a little diversity in how they score. Nichushkin has responded to some poor recent games with two very strong outings in the last two games.
Ross Colton was fantastic centering a third line that dominated the game while it was still competitive. His goal (more on that below) was a dagger and really put the Ducks away. He did the Ross Colton things we’ve become accustomed to when he played a hard-nosed game and added five shots on goal, obviously including the one that went in.
Logan O’Connor was another monster tonight next alongside Colton and his two-way play was game-changing throughout. He had two assists, one on the line with Colton and one on a line next to Kiviranta and Fredrik Olofsson, but it was some of the other stuff that also had a huge impact on the game.
When Mikko Rantanen was called for a double-minor, it opened the door for Anaheim to find their way back into the game and change the momentum. That was halted when O’Connor’s speed caused problems yet again for a power play unit and he drew a penalty. It probably should have been a penalty shot, but in this case, the two minutes of 4v4 time was probably the preferred outcome. He also had multiple excellent backchecks that disrupted odd-man rushes for Anaheim. If you were curious, he is on a 38-point pace right now.
Colorado’s transition defense
An area the Avalanche have left a lot to be desired this season has been their transition defense. It’s been spotty at times and that creates opportunities for opposing teams to get scoring chances going in the most dangerous area of the game.
The Avalanche are not known for their in-zone defense as much as what they do in the neutral zone, so seeing their performance tonight was very encouraging. It was a continuation of what they did so well against Seattle two nights ago as they defended in the neutral zone with active sticks and excellent team defense.
Here’s a look at the Avs defending controlled zone entries against the Ducks tonight. You’ll see Colorado aggressively defending and turning defense into offense in a matter of seconds. You’ll see some successful entries by the Ducks, too, but quality in-zone defense and the Avs exiting the zone without ever really being in danger.
This is the secret sauce to Colorado’s defensive success. When they play like this and force teams to rely on dumping the puck and chasing it, the Avs can rely on the array of puck skills they have across their defense to go to work retrieving pucks and getting them out.
There’s a reason teams don’t like to try to play this way against the Avalanche and this is a good look at why.
It would be a significant surprise if Dallas tried to do much of this on Saturday night.
There really wasn’t a player whom I felt was worthy of being put here tonight but the Avalanche penalties were certainly a sore spot that can be pointed out. Anaheim had four power plays in the game, all in the first 30 minutes when the game was still up for grabs.
Colorado’s penalty kill gets plenty of credit here, as does O’Connor’s individual effort to greatly reduce the threat of Rantanen’s double-minor, but this has been another area where you can point to the Avs this season and it has been an area of concern.
The Avs are seventh in the NHL with 63 minor penalties this season and that’s more than you’re comfortable with on the whole. In the scope of tonight alone, the Avs had completely dominated the game and had all of the momentum, but giving the Ducks four PPs when the game was still within two goals is asking a team to climb back in and make a real game of it.
Colorado batted away the opportunities tonight, but the best defense in the future is not giving those opportunities at all (in an ideal world).
A guy with three assists is an unsung hero? Absolutely he is. The shine will go onto Kiviranta’s surprise performance and there will be a lot of love for others who had strong performances (see above!). Jack Johnson certainly would have merited mention here as well as he had two assists tonight and played very well overall, but I wanted to talk about Makar a bit because, well, Makar is a different beast.
The assists are obvious. He had a secondary assist on Nichushkin’s first goal as he moved the puck across the offensive zone to Devon Toews and then also had the shot that Nichushkin tipped in. Those are easy hockey plays that work out, normal stuff.
The play he makes on the Toews goal to make it 8-2 is exceptional vision and playmaking and is the kind of play that will be on his highlight reel at the end of the season. It’s a wonderful bit of offensive hockey. That’s great.
What I really wanted to put some quick attention on, however, was Colorado’s fourth goal. It’s mostly notable because the passing from Miles Wood and Logan O’Connor to spring Ross Colton is awesome. It stretches the Anaheim defense out, who gets caught flat-footed against a very fast trio skating downhill through the neutral zone, and Colton finishes nicely when he beats Lukas Dostal on the blocker side.
Who starts it though?
We take some of this stuff for granted because we see it so frequently, but watch out Makar sucks the forechecker in by playing it like he’s casually gathering the puck. His sharp cut and acceleration to the other side of the net created a ton of space for himself and he moved the puck to Wood.
Then the rest of the passing play happens and the Avs score the de facto game-ending goal, but it all starts with something routine that Makar does very well. That is the skating prowess and hockey smarts that make Makar such a special player.
One of the true art forms in the world is making the difficult look routine and Makar does that there as he baits the forechecker into attacking the puck harder than he likely wanted to in that situation. He’s pretty good!