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Happy New Year!
Here we are, New Year’s Eve, starting down the calendar officially flipping over to 2023. Seriously almost unbelievable.
It was a week for the Colorado Avalanche that saw them end up on the wrong side of multiple disappointing outcomes in very winnable games.
They needed a bounce back. They needed, at bare minimum, a mental boost and a solid game from start to finish.
It was a tall order, given that you had the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the league’s most explosive offensive teams, coming to town. The task got slightly more palatable this morning when the Avs somewhat unexpectedly activated Nathan MacKinnon off of injured reserve. The Avalanche were getting back their superstar.
There was no morning skate, so we had to wait until game time to get the news confirmed officially, but sure enough, MacKinnon hit the ice for warm-ups to a celebratory roar from the crowd.
Last season’s game against the Maple Leafs was one of the highlights of Colorado’s season. They overcame a three-goal deficit in spectacular fashion en route to a major statement of a win. You hoped that with the addition of MacKinnon to the lineup that we’d see another epic collision between two of the league’s top teams, despite the Avs still dealing with significant injuries up front.
The game started, and for my money it looked like Toronto had their skating legs and the Avs were going to potentially be outmatched depth-wise. It was going to need to be a great team-defensive effort, and likely a heroic performance from Alexandar Georgiev in net.
Well, by the time we got to the halfway mark of the opening frame, neither of those things were happening for the Avs.
It was all Toronto. They were generating chances, and it felt like they had the puck on their sticks the entire time. Mitch Marner broke through first off the rush with a really nice move to work around Andreas Englund before snapping one far side to beat Georgiev.
Just minutes later, some nice puck movement in the zone, and a scramble in front of the net led to Pierre Engvall finding himself with the puck on his stick just about 7’ from the net. He spun around and whipped one by Georgiev, who was trying to find it.
To start the game, the Maple Leafs were in complete control. With all of Colorado’s injuries, they just can’t afford a bad start, and unfortunately, that’s been most games recently.
The Avs eventually got their legs engaged enough that they were able to generate some chances, and it was J.T. Compher late in the period who was able to give them some life.
After Compher narrowly missed on his first attempt, the puck found him again while in the offensive zone, he cut across the high slot and ripped one back across the grain to beat Maple Leaf goaltender Matt Murray. The building had some life, and so did the Avs as they headed to the locker room.
That life quickly vanished though as the middle frame got underway. Just eight seconds into the second period, Ben Meyers got called for slashing and sent the Leafs to the man advantage.
It didn’t take long for the Maple Leafs to start moving the puck around the offensive zone with ease. Some great movement, and a cut to the net by Leaf captain John Tavares created a loose puck that landed right on Michael Bunting’s stick, who punched it home with authority.
While the Avs made some pushes throughout the game, that goal really felt like the game to me.
When you’re trying to come back on a team and you’re picking up some momentum, there is nothing that kills all hopes and dreams like a goal against. My friends and I used to call it the “kill a comeback” goal.
3-1 now and the Avalanche really hadn’t generated much that felt ultra-threatening. Devon Toews made things interesting right at the halfway mark of the game, closing the gap to 3-2. I thought that goal gave the Avs some nice jump, they looked engaged and like they were maybe going to be able to apply enough pressure to tie things up.
Five minutes after the Toews goal though, Auston Matthews would score, followed 24 seconds later by TJ Brodie. That made it 5-2, and this one was done.
A pretty neutral third period that saw the Avs technically control the play, but that was just because Toronto had gone into shutdown mode.
An empty-netter made it 6-2, and that’s where this game would finish. The Avalanche still have points in 8 of their last 11, but this was another one that just felt icky.
It’s a new year tomorrow, and there’s no better excuse to throw this game in the trash and start fresh.