Colorado heads into their bye week and the All-Star break on a high note after defeating the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in a game the Avs nearly blew a three-goal lead but eventually held on for the win.
On his birthday, Newhook scored the game’s opening goal on a bit of fantastic play in the neutral zone. You’ll see, however, it all starts with Newhook himself on the forecheck:
The forecheck is great from Newhook and linemates Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano. The puck gets out of the zone but it’s contested, which forces a turnover and Brad Hunt makes a great read on getting it right back into the action.
Hunt’s pass hits O’Connor, who makes a perfect bank pass off the wall to get Newhook into space. From there, it’s all Newhook. He adjusts his body for his initial shot, and then I loved how he keeps himself square to the net despite sliding to his right in order to get enough power on the rebound to put the puck in. It’s a great bit of instinct and skill on display.
The second Avalanche again starts with Newhook, but this time in the defensive zone.
Newhook blocks the shot, pressures the puck, then ultimately overpowers Jake Neighbors and strips him of the puck. He buys time, finds help, and watches his teammates go score one. The actual goal itself wasn’t Newhook’s involvement, but it all starts with him.
He finished with one goal on three shots and a blocked shot while being consistent throughout.
Just watch the videos of Newhook above and O’Connor’s role in both goals is obvious. The bank pass to Newhook on goal one followed by him plucking the puck off the wall after Ben Meyers won a 1v2 board battle.
It wasn’t just the two assists, which were obviously great, but the physicality throughout the game. His relentless work ethic helped his line find success yet again and he is always causing problems on the ice, from disrupting passes to throwing off the timing of neutral zone play. He’s just a menace when he’s at his best, which he once again was today.
He wasn’t heavily tested until the third period, but Georgiev came up huge time and time again when his team needed it. There might be no save more impressive than him getting his glove on Jordan Kyrou’s one-timer with 15 seconds remaining in the game. He plucked it out of the air, allowed no rebound, and the stoppage led to a cleared puck and, ultimately, Matt Nieto’s empty-net goal to seal it.
26 saves on 28 shots isn’t a dominant statistical effort but the two goals that got by him weren’t ones you’re asking any goalie to stop and he made the extra save, which was the difference between the loss two days ago against Anaheim and the win today.
The players he’s keeping statistical company with so far this season should make Colorado’s front office feel very good about the chance they took on him.
Looking really strong in each game since coming back to the club, Nieto had the empty-net goal that gave me an excuse to give him some extra love in this section. I think he looks good, plays with the same kind of pace we’ve become accustomed to from him, and is really helping Colorado’s depth find a new level. He’s going to be an important piece for the rest of this season.
Colorado’s third period approach
So here’s where I am with this. The Avs aren’t doing anything that other teams don’t do on a regular basis. Teams sit back on multi-goal leads all the time. For one, it’s human nature, but it’s also a tried and true way to seal games. Don’t turn pucks over, don’t take penalties, don’t give up quality scoring chances, win the game.
On paper, it’s not really a controversial approach. In practice, it drives absolutely every single spectator, from fans to media to team reps, bonkers. It feels like crawling through broken glass.
On the other side, of course, it feels like the comeback is impossible, every lead insurmountable and the turtle strategy annoyingly effective. Simply, it do be like that sometimes.
What I think is meaningful from the Avs’ perspective, is that their trying to pack it in and play team defense with the current lineup badly exposes the players in the lineup as injury replacements.
They aren’t asking Brad Hunt, Andreas Englund, and Kurtis MacDermid to play this way when they are building their leads and playing with a more aggressive mindset. Asking them to sit back and defend their own zone is asking them to do the thing that all three struggle to consistently do.
As defensemen, if they were particularly good at that, they would be full-time NHL guys. So, to me, it seems counter-productive for the Avs to keep rolling this out and asking these guys to jam square pegs into round holes.
It’s not that this trio is particularly adept at playing Colorado’s up-tempo, aggressive style either, but they’re easier to hide when they are all skating pucks out of the zone as a group and attacking on offense.
Now, it’s not on all three of them that the Avs are in this position; missing defensive stalwarts at forward in Valeri Nichushkin and Gabe Landeskog make it a much tougher task in general, as well, because of the two-way acumen those guys bring. To me, it just seems to really shine the spotlight on guys who shouldn’t be playing that kind of role.
At this stage of his career, you can put Erik Johnson on that list, too, and add Sam Girard as a guy who is not going to thrive when asking him exclusively to defend. It’s just not a fit for this personnel. I also don’t think it’s a tactical decision as much as it is a team struggling with some leadership issues right now keeping their head on straight and getting the job done.
I just wrote a bunch of words about how I think Colorado’s replacement defenders are actively holding them back when trying to protect leads, but if you look at that entire unit today, they were awesome on the other side of the puck against the Blues.
Every single Avalanche defenseman registered a shot on goal and you saw strong activation in the offensive zone from Makar, Toews, Girard, Hunt, and even Englund. Makar, Girard, and Hunt all finished with assists.
We’ve talked a lot this year about how Colorado’s offense unlocks at its highest level when the defense is adding to the mix and today was a very good example of that. I loved the way that group jumped into the play.
I’ve always said that I think this team can and will accept aggressive mistakes. Trying to make something happen is the entire point of being out there. Go be a difference-maker. It’s when they only want to focus on not allowing the other team to do stuff that I think they lose their way.