Colorado’s winning streak hit six games with their 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals. It turns out winning is more fun than losing.
I sure do keep putting goalies in this spot a lot, don’t I? Colorado has gotten elite goaltending from their duo this year so I feel pretty justified in showing them love.
Georgiev was on another level tonight, however, as the defense in front of him was careless with the puck and made his life harder than it needed to be. That’s going to happen sometimes and when your goaltender rises to that occasion and gets you a win, it sure is encouraging.
Georgiev has been exceptional in every month except December (when Colorado’s injury woes peaked, mind you) and probably stole the game for the Avs tonight. It sure felt at times like this had “4-3 loss” written on it, but Georgiev held strong and kept the Caps from completing the comeback.
I mean, look at this guy. Here is just a sample of his 37 saves, including a late-game stop with his face.
Alex Newhook/Andrew Cogliano/Logan O’Connor
This was Colorado’s best and most consistent line tonight. I didn’t really feel the need to pick one guy of the trio because they all had impactful roles on the outcome. Obviously, Newhook and Cogliano had two of Colorado’s three goals and LOC had assists on each of their goals.
More than that, however, they just played a really effective 200-foot game. They spent 12:15 together at 5v5 and won both the quality and quantity of the shot-share battle. They had more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone (4-2) but were able to effectively clear their own zone and transition into offense.
The forecheck from this group was great, and Newhook’s goal is a thing of beauty as a means of turning good defense into offense. Let’s break it down.
This is a set play. Newhook wins the faceoff, Girard retrieves it and sends it to center to LOC, who taps it to Newhook.
Where the scouting report hasn’t caught up to the player yet is with Alex Newhook in open ice. This is Dmitry Orlov’s 11th year in the NHL. He’s gotten to this point by being a smooth-skating defender who uses his feet to take space away from similarly skilled skaters.
Orlov didn’t read this situation well at all and didn’t show Newhook the respect he deserved and it cost him.
Newhook collects the puck in the neutral zone, beats Orlov wide, and a desperation switch by Orlov and Nick Jensen proves futile as Newhook beats Darcy Kuemper cleanly for what ultimately became the game-winning goal.
The penalty kill
There were only two power plays awarded in this game and both went to the Washington Capitals. Both were also called in the first period as the game was still sorting itself out but after Colorado had taken a 1-0 lead on Artturi Lehkonen’s goal.
Four minutes of power play time with the greatest goal scorer in NHL history and the Caps managed just four shots on goal and four scoring chances. That’s one per minute, which when compared to rate stats of teams on 5v4 power plays, show us that isn’t very good. The San Jose Sharks generate the 17th-most scoring chances per minute at barely over 1, so that’s where the Caps were tonight.
What really stood out to me the most, however, was the zone entry defense being played by Colorado’s PK units. They were aggressive holding the blueline and not even allowing Washington to get set up. Here are some examples.
When Washington did get set up, how the Avs defended the power play was completely unlike how they’ve defended anyone else this year. When Alex Ovechkin scores from his “office”, inevitably the reaction is, “How does a team allow him to do the one thing he’s amazing at?”
Well, Colorado seemed pretty determined to take that option away. Check this out.
You see in the first clip that Colorado makes no secret of their intention: They are going to cut the ice in half, put one man on Ovechkin to essentially play man-to-man defense, and play 3v4 the rest of the ice.
We see Colorado use Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, and Evan Rodrigues to accomplish this goal.
Where things get squirrely is the end, when Rodrigues is tasked with stopping Ovechkin.
In this clip above, you’ll see Rodrigues keep looser coverage than the previous two Avs did as he spends most of the time watching the puck. Ovechkin, however, watches Rodrigues and makes a move toward the net after Rodrigues takes a look back.
Ovechkin is so comically dangerous and Washington so committed to trying to find him that when Ovechkin slips down to the net and Rodrigues doesn’t follow, it opens up enough ice that Tom Wilson gets the puck and tries to move it across the crease to him. Rodrigues is a beat late but still gets enough stick on it to disrupt the attempt.
Valeri Nichushkin/J.T. Compher/Mikko Rantanen
Colorado’s second line tonight, this trio hardcore struggled. Rantanen occasionally swapped over and played next to Lehkonen and Nathan MacKinnon, but only served to make that duo worse tonight, including being on the ice for Washington’s first goal.
Still, this is supposed to be the peanut butter to MacKinnon’s jelly, the line that can handle some heavy defensive-zone lifting while creating enough offense to keep teams from dedicating their personnel to shutting down MacKinnon.
Tonight, however, they lost the territorial battle in terms of shot attempts (8-7) but also scoring chances (6-3) and high-danger chances (3-1). They didn’t give up a goal, but they were the worst of Colorado’s three regular lines.
The most distressing part of this line’s struggles is that they didn’t come against just one Washington line. They were eaten up by two different assignments (Strome and Eller). The Avs were able to survive this line collapsing against Washington but will need to see improvements if they hope to win their final two games before the break.
With Devon Toews missing his normal partner, he has been steadily rotating playing with just about everyone the last few games. In this spot, however, you’ll see Toews pinch in to try to create an offensive chance.
When it fizzles out, Mikko Rantanen gets caught puck-watching as Alex Ovechkin breaks into open space. Rantanen’s decision is compounded by that of Kurtis MacDermid, who had moved from the center of the ice to the wall when the puck was rimmed around there. In doing that, however, MacDermid leaves the center of the ice wide open with his D partner still down low in the offensive zone.
An errant pass that gets away from Ovechkin is all that keeps him from a clean breakaway as a result of poor decisions and communication from multiple Colorado players.
We all get it. In close games, refs aren’t likely to call anything they don’t view as egregious (we’ll ignore the absolute fiasco that took place in the Florida-Colorado game a few weeks ago…), but I saw three things in the final few minutes that really stood out to me as obvious examples of poor officiating.
Teams always want to “let players decide the games” but when players start cheating, well, they pay people to handle that!
For my money, Sonny Milano hooks/holds Lehkonen, J.T. Compher obliterates Trevor van Riemsdyk’s stick with an obvious slash, then Ovechkin slashes Nichushkin’s stick clean out of his hands.
They all take place within the final 3:30, all went uncalled. Maybe you’ll argue they are soft or nothing there, but they didn’t sit right with me on live viewing and on watching replay both slashes looked even worse than I originally thought. Not a major thing, but something I noticed.
In a game where the Avs got zero power plays, if there was ever a time an official was going to call something in the late stages of a hockey game, this was it. They chose not to and the Avs got out with the points anyway.
So here’s the thing. I don’t think EJ played a very good game, but there’s a context here. He hasn’t been practicing because he’s got a nagging injury of some kind bothering him. He’s still out there playing, however, and this is just me saying that I appreciate EJ going out there with the warrior mentality and giving whatever he has in the tank to help a badly-wounded defense limp into the upcoming break.
The Avs are likely going to get Josh Manson, Bowen Byram, and Cale Makar back either right after the break or shortly after they return to action. Reinforcements are on the way and it’s a matter of getting to the finish line this Saturday afternoon against St. Louis.
In a game where Sam Girard was probably Colorado’s best D, I wanted to shout out EJ as a guy who struggled but gutted it out. Given his work over the course of the games Makar has been missing, consider this “Unsung Hero of the Week” instead of just this game, I guess.