Colorado’s defense

More than anything else in this game, I want to start with the defense. It started out lacking in the focus on the details of the game that a team of Colorado’s caliber needs and it ended by completely tightening the screws and dominating Arizona.

It got to the point that the Coyotes actually stopped playing offense because the Avs were running the puck down their throat so consistently. When Arizona basically threw its gameplan out the window late in the game in favor of putting four guys on their own blueline, it abandoned any real shot at offense except for major mistakes by Colorado’s defensemen in the offensive zone.

Those counterattack opportunities never came and the Avs continued pouring on the pressure. Colorado didn’t have a great start to the game but it went from allowing 12 scoring chances and nine (!!) high-danger chances in the first period to allowing seven and five combined over the next two periods, respectively.

They locked it down as a group.

Colorado’s balanced attack

Jared Bednar changed up the top two lines today and while Mikko Rantanen didn’t awake from his multi-game slumber (despite his two assists; classic Mikko), the chemistry down the lineup clicked in a really encouraging way.

I’m still not in love with Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin playing together because of their redundant skill sets, but today we saw what happens when those skills lock into concert together. They produced some sweet forechecking music together and the Coyotes did not freely leave the zone against Colorado’s second line.

What I especially loved was the bottom six’s work today. Lars Eller was on the ice for two (!) shot attempts against at 5v5. Just two! The Cogliano-Eller-O’Connor trio had a 13-2 Corsi For advantage and a 7-2 lead in scoring chances. Despite not scoring, that’s a very dangerous third line that caused Arizona fits all game.

While the fourth line allowed a little more than the Eller-led third line, this lone scored the game’s first goal when Denis Malgin put a backhand behind Connor Ingram. Alex Newhook and Brad Hunt got assists, which served as very important depth contributions in a game that went into overtime.

It’s that kind of balance that should have led to a cruise-control-style victory for the Avs. That didn’t obviously happen, but the Avs should feel very good about how their forward corps played as a group.

Alexandar Georgiev

He finished with 18 saves on 20 shots and his final save of the game came with 2:20 remaining in the second period. So, he wasn’t asked to do much after that, but without his work, the Avs never would have been able to climb back into this game the way they did.

It was another night where the numbers betrayed just how well Georgiev played. For me, the key stop came in the second period after the Avs had tied the game at 2-2 and were trying to really make the push for a lead heading into the third period. Nick Schmaltz got behind Colorado’s defense, even if just for a moment, and had a clean breakaway. It wasn’t a long enough breakaway that Schmaltz could make any kind of move, so he just tried to roof it over Georgiev’s glove, but the Colorado netminder was prepared and snagged it cleanly.

That’s a game-changing moment if Schmaltz scores that goal. It deflates the entire building and changes the complexion of the game entirely. Instead, the Avs didn’t have to chase anything and just poured it all on in the third, though Arizona’s neutral zone system acted as if that goal got scored anyway.

I’ve loved Georgiev’s response to his putrid performance in Dallas and it’s too bad the numbers don’t reflect how well I believe he has played. He is the steadying presence this team needs and making an underrated case for Avalanche MVP this season.

Cale Makar

I mean, come on. That move on the overtime game-winning goal? There just aren’t many defensemen alive who can do that. Makar can and did. House call from Dr. Dubs.


Bowen Byram

I mentioned the defense above getting better and it absolutely did. Byram’s play was a big factor in helping clean things up, however. Arizona’s 16 high-danger chances? Byram on the ice for eight of them. Their 21 scoring chances? 11 came against Byram, the only Av in double digits.

Both goals? Byram played a key role in both goals against. The first was him losing his footing, then making a desperation play that he simply didn’t have to when he tried swatting the puck back out of the zone. Because he was falling backward, he had no momentum behind the attempt and it went right back to Arizona, who scored seconds later.

The second Coyotes goal started when Byram got back, sealed off the lane to the goal very nicely, but then watched as Barrett Hayton outskated him with the stop and reverse, leaving Byram in the dust and his Avalanche teammates trying to collapse on him a bit to help.

It certainly wasn’t Byram’s fault that Nathan MacKinnon didn’t pick Clayton Keller up at all on the backside, but it was Byram’s initial losing of Hayton on the hard stop that created a lot of that space. An ugly start to the game for him did eventually get much better, so this is more of a dud with an asterisk.

J.T. Compher

Some games it’s hard to really find a dud and Compher’s inclusion here should be noted that I don’t think he had a poor game overall at all, but I did note something during the game that was disappointing for me.

Here we go, talking faceoffs! We like to say on the podcast that they don’t matter until they matter, with a specific focus on the obvious ones that matter; you know, the ones that start on power plays or any faceoff at all in a 3v3 situation.

As Colorado’s designated go-to FO guy this year, Compher gets a lot of chances there. Here’s how he did today.

He lost both offensive zone faceoffs on the power play, leading to cleared pucks
He won one of two defensive zone faceoffs on the penalty kill. The win led to a cleared puck
He lost the neutral zone faceoff in overtime, leading to Arizona gaining that always-crucial puck possession in 3v3.

He finished with nine wins and 21 losses in the FO dot today. This obviously isn’t to say Compher is bad at FOs or anything, but when he isn’t scoring (he has zero points in his last five games), he needs to be contributing elsewhere. The FO dot is one of the opportunities unique to his role that gives him a chance to make that difference. Today, he was miserable there (but pretty good elsewhere, so let’s call him a dud just at FOs today because I liked his overall game).

Unsung Hero

Sam Girard

He didn’t score any points and he was on the ice for no goals for either team. Amazing given his luck this year (his on-ice save percentage is the lowest among regular Avs D and a major contributing factor to his abysmal +/-).

He shot metrics in this one were awesome, though. He was on the ice for 31 shot attempts for, just five against. The final shots on goal tally with Sam Girard on the ice was 14 for, 4 against. That’s an incredible day for a guy who played more than 20 minutes at 5v5.

I don’t think it was just an accident, either. I thought he was actually awesome. His defense was great as he was the best version of himself with a really disruptive stick and skating out of danger. He moved pucks well and efficiently and defended well when asked. He jumped into the offense and presented a dangerous target pretty consistently. I am all about the Sam Girard we saw today.


A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @returnofaj