This can kind of be a cop-out at times, but tonight was one where I truly didn’t think one player or pairing elevated and carried the load. All of Colorado’s big 4 on defense (Makar/Girard/Toews/Byram) were positive contributors and helped push the Avs to one of their best all-around defensive efforts this season.
For the numbers crowd, here are Toronto’s per-60 averages stacked against what they were able to do tonight:
- Goals: 3.36 (season), 1 (tonight)
- Even strength Corsi: 56.77 (season), 32 (tonight)
- Even strength shots on goal: 30.81 (season), 16 (tonight)
- Even strength scoring chances: 32.2 (season), 17 (tonight)
- Even strength high-danger chances: 13.52 (season), 3 (tonight)
I’ve previously used this space to talk about Colorado’s net-front defense, in particular, being an Achilles heel for this group as they don’t have the big bodies necessary to do all of the banging and crashing in that area.
Tonight, however, we saw what this group is capable of in a high-level game against top competition and it didn’t require an excess of manliness to accomplish the smothering defensive effort we saw.
No, it was smart positioning, disruptive sticks, and a team committed to the details in their game working as a cohesive unit. I had mentioned after Colorado’s recent loss that Colorado didn’t play a very connected game. Tonight, the exact opposite. This is what five players on the ice sharing a brain would look like.
An excellent defensive effort.
It wasn’t a dominant effort for any of the stars on either team, but you got to see the best from each team make their mark on the outcome of this game. From Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and Auston Matthews to Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, you got both of the goals scored in regulation (Rielly and Rantanen) plus assists (Marner, MacKinnon, Makar) and the game-winning goal in the shootout (MacKinnon).
I just loved that this was a game that felt like a heavyweight fight. The New Year’s Eve game between these two featured a comically depleted version of the Avalanche and the 6-2 final was pretty accurate for where both clubs were at the time. Tonight with the heavy hitters in the lineup, well, they were the ones to decide this outcome.
While Matthews didn’t figure on the scoresheet, he was stopped in the shootout and had a team-high five shots on goal. None of them beat Alexandar Georgiev, which brings us to…
He wasn’t dominant, he wasn’t particularly special. This wasn’t a good or bad game given the combination of workload and quality of shots allowed by the team in front of him, but when the outcome got to the shootout, none of that mattered anymore.
All that mattered then was how Georgiev could handle himself 1v1 against the likes of William Nylander, Matthews, and Marner.
All three had opportunities, all three stopped by Georgiev. The team in front of him has owed him much better than they’ve given him in some games and tonight they gave it to him. When he absolutely had to meet them at their peak, he did.
The power play had five opportunities and only scored on one of them, but the game was 1-1 going into the shootout so the Avalanche absolutely needed what they got.
Was this a banner night for the power play? Absolutely not. One-for-five just isn’t going to be anything to write home about, but they get a gold star next to their name because they did score the team’s only goal of the night. I don’t care if it was lucky, they got it done.
The penalty kill, however, once again rose to the occasion and flexed its muscles as a growing strength of this team. Toronto’s PP was ranked second in the NHL coming into the game and didn’t score on three different chances and registered just three shots on goal, three scoring chances, and one-high danger chance. The best scoring chance on a Toronto power play actually belonged to Colorado when Valeri Nichushkin had a clean breakaway stopped by Ilya Samsonov.
The Avs won the special teams battle tonight and it was the primary reason they walked out with the first point in the standings.
This one is easy just because you can look at all of the scoring chances created for him by teammates and he just throws them away time and time and time again. Left completely alone in front of the Toronto net, Rodrigues ended up with the puck on his stick and airmailed the shot so badly that it might land in Ottawa about the same time the team does tonight. Not even a competitive attempt.
Bednar stuck with him, though, and despite not giving Rodrigues a chance at an overtime shift (Denis Malgin snagged that one), the coach tapped Rodrigues on the shoulder at the start of the shootout. Unfortunately, it followed the rest of the night from Rodrigues, who also notched two penalties in this game. The shootout attempt wasn’t even all that competitive and capped a totally forgettable evening.
Lars Eller and Co.
I’ve written about Eller a bit in this space recently but tonight we got a glimpse of what Colorado’s master plan should really look like come the playoffs. On the road with Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe selecting matchups, Eller saw his assignment tonight split pretty evenly between going against Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
In fact, Eller (alongside Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor) had their way with the Tavares line so thoroughly, it eventually got broken up as Tavares moved alongside Matthews and Marner in attempts to push one line over the top.
It didn’t work as Eller won head-to-head matchups against both units, displaying the defensive excellence that has been the hallmark of his career. Tonight was a showcase of Eller’s usefulness as a chess piece in a playoff series that can handle tougher matchups and make a difference on the defensive side of the puck.
Maybe most impressive was the way Eller played into Colorado’s more transition-minded offense at times. He helped create multiple scoring chances on the rush that could have been goals with better finish from Avs skaters. This was another strong showing from him.
Read someplace that E-rod always has a great first half of the season and then tails off badly the second half. That’s whats happening this year.