The Colorado Avalanche took care of business on Saturday afternoon with a tidy 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. It was a drama-free affair that saw the Avs score first, build out their lead, and avoid any silliness in the third period as they cruised to victory.
I like starting this section off with goaltenders, in case you haven’t noticed. It’s easy to start here, too, because they have such a singular impact on the outcome of a game. Annunen wasn’t spectacular today as he wasn’t asked to do very much.
He made 19 saves on 20 shots and the Blues put up an expected goals of just 1.71 across all situations. It wasn’t sparkling, but it was effective. Annunen is Colorado’s 3/4G and gave the Avalanche calm, easy victory in a game they rolled the dice by sitting Alexandar Georgiev.
Pavel Francouz is out for about three more weeks and the Avs have more back-to-backs coming, so this gives something for Annunen to build from.
I don’t think Rantanen was particularly good in this game (he certainly wasn’t bad, for the record) but he broke his personal seven-game scoring slump and notched goal number 200 for his career. It doesn’t feel so long ago that I was writing about a rookie Rantanen getting overlooked by the hockey world at large. Today, he scored goal #200 in game 462. He’s a special one.
Sam Girard/J.T. Compher/Nathan MacKinnon
All three players had two assists and played overall very solid, sound games. The big mistake from Girard we’ll get to in the “Duds” section but I wanted to make sure I gave love to two players who had multi-point games but will probably get overlooked because Rantanen hit a career milestone and the guy below stole the show.
If you are extremely online as I am, you’ll recognize the headline of this piece as the result of a fun thought experiment last summer comparing New Jersey’s young core to Colorado’s and the assertion that “everyone has a Byram” in their system. We laughed then, we are certainly laughing today.
Byram was nothing short of dominant today. He finished 16-4 in Corsi, 11-3 in shots on goal, 1-0 in goals, and at 87% expected goals at 5v5. That is a dominant effort, the kind of stat line we have seen from Devon Toews and Cale Makar a lot in recent years.
The first goal is a touch lucky because it gets the defenseman’s stick and changes angle enough to fool Jordan Binnington, but that’s hockey sometimes. The second goal is just a one-timer he smokes past a sliding Binnington and it put an exclamation point on the game.
The goals are obviously great. The two-way play, though, is a reminder that no, not everyone “has a Byram” just sitting around. Since returning from injury, Byram has five points in six games and is up to 10 in 16 on the season. Byram isn’t just another young blue-chip prospect who could be an impact player. He has a chance to be truly special. Today’s performance is the kind of game we should be growing to expect from Byram over time.
The only St. Louis goal
The reality here is that Colorado was so dominant, there really isn’t a player that fits into this space. The one goal that St. Louis scored was actually pretty interesting so I want to go back and break it down a bit.
It starts very weirdly. Let’s watch the whole play before dissecting it.
On the surface, it appears to be an inexplicable turnover by Girard to a wide-open Blues player standing alone that kickstarts this counterattack. On further inspection, however, it gets a little more interesting. Let’s take a look at the ice when Girard releases the puck.
Keep in mind that this is very easy to dissect in slow motion and via screenshots. In reality, Girard read the ice and had already decided to make the play with the puck into open ice. What he didn’t account for is Blues forward Logan Brown stepping onto the ice early. You see on the left side he is hopping over the boards while Ivan Barbashev is still a good ten feet away.
When Brown gets onto the ice, the puck is literally right to him. At the moment he touches it, Barbashev is still on the ice. This should have been blown dead for St. Louis having too many men on the ice.
That obviously didn’t happen, so play continued. Where things really breakdown here is that Andreas Englund gets caught puck-watching instead of picking up his man on the back side.
When Englund realizes it, it’s already too late to stop what’s in motion.
Blais buried it as Annunen couldn’t get across quickly enough (I’d like a better read from him but he would have had to make an amazing save no matter what).
That right there is Colorado’s only real blemish in the game. There were other scoring chances, of course, but all ended fine. This was the only big mistake of the game and, as usual, it is owned by multiple people and absolutely not solely on Girard.
Was Englund involved in the goal against? He sure was! Did I really like the rest of his game otherwise? I sure did!
The on-ice numbers do not paint a pretty picture for Englund and there’s no denying it could have been a better afternoon on the whole. A player can almost always do something better, right?
We’re talking about a depth defender here, however, and there were some things I really loved about his game. I’ve written this a ton of times already in this space, but I’ll continue to harp on it: Colorado loves denying controlled zone entries. They badly want teams to try to skate into the zone with possession. As a result, all of Colorado’s defenders actively try to make plays at the line. Englund does this with success throughout these clips.
Other things you’ll notice are his physicality, something that is a must-have from him given his size, and ability to win board battles. Those are big selling points when you’re talking about a depth defenseman who is trying to make a case he deserves more looks even if the Avalanche defense gets close to healthy (tomorrow’s lineup will be a clue as to the hierarchy involved when Josh Manson will be back in).
This isn’t high-level stuff, but it’s very effective and Englund was consistently solid at retrieving pucks, getting them out of his zone, and moving the game forward. For a bottom-pairing defender, this is precisely what you’re looking for. He won’t make an All-Star Game doing any of this and his offense is essentially non-existent (he stepped in beyond the blueline once this game and nothing happened), but this is the stuff you want to see from depth players.
Englund knows his role and played it well today. Count me as a fan, even though the numbers do not look good (30% CF certainly isn’t great) and his role in the goal against was obvious.