Cale Makar

When Bowen Byram scored late in the second period to make it 3-1, it was Makar’s third point of the game and all three were well-earned. Three points in just under 38 minutes to put the Avs in prime territory to walk away with a 4-0 road trip.

He was that good today. While Detroit fans were in a tizzy over the debut of Simon Edvinsson and his big hit on Nathan MacKinnon in the first period, the league’s actual best defenseman that all the kids aspire to be like was taking over the game and putting his team on the winning path. His skating and aggressive decision-making with the puck defined this game.

The move he put on the pass to Byram for that third goal was uniquely Makar. No other defenseman, and really no other player, can manipulate the defense with the quick-twitch puck work he has. It’s devastatingly effective when it works, as it certainly did today. I don’t know if there’s enough runway for him to make a real charge in the Norris voting, but I bet some people look at how he’s finishing the season and are remembering whose world we’re really living in.

Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon’s game has been on a rocket ship for several months now. He scored his 30th goal of the season today on a play where he outdoes three Red Wings skaters and then beats Ville Husso with a great shot. The setup from Makar and Malgin was sublime, but that was just to create the space for MacKinnon, who abuses space as well as anyone in the league not named Connor McDavid.

It was a beautiful play through the neutral zone and ended up being the game-winning goal, but MacKinnon was only just getting started. While Makar had the Avs in the early going, MacKinnon helped Colorado slam the door shut on this game and that feels like a pretty fun game between the two superstars.

While the fifth goal wasn’t NEEDED, it absolutely eliminated whatever thoughts Detroit might have had about trying to make it competitive. It was also a gorgeous passing play that showed Colorado’s best players have a little something in the tank when they play together.

Alexandar Georgiev

The truth of this game is that it turned into a runaway winner for the Avalanche but it took them getting through a tough first period where the Red Wings ran roughshod on Colorado. The primary factor in getting out of the opening frame with the game tied 1-1 was Georgiev, who was once again excellent in this game.

With 16 shots, 15 scoring chances, and seven high-danger chances in the first period alone, Georgiev was plenty busy. The only shot that got by him was a perfectly-placed wrister from Pius Suter that beat Georgiev up high. You can live with that goal against by the goaltender.

The rest of the game? Slammed the door shut. He was excellent in playing a calm, controlled game that looked like he might have been bored at one point. He stopped a couple of mini-breakaways in the second period that could have tied or brought the game back to within one goal, but he stood tall.

A thing I have come to appreciate about Georgiev when facing breakaways is how calm he really is. He’s not overdoing it, reading things that aren’t there, and forcing the shooters to do something to make him move out of his stance. That patience in a non-shootout breakaway is tough for shooters because in the pace of play they know they are rapidly running out of time to make a move. Georgiev repeatedly wins that battle of wills and did so again today.

The team in front of him played significantly better in periods two and three, but he was the team’s best player in the first period when they needed him most. He finishes the road trip giving up two goals in his last two games.

Bowen Byram

Things started off ROUGH in this game with the Byram-Girard pairing together. As the game went on, Girard’s struggles continued by Byram separated. The decision to play the 4v3 on the power play late in the second period was a hell of a move from Jared Bednar and Nolan Pratt. They showed major trust in their youngster and he rewarded them with that one-timer that is clearly the best one-timer among the defensemen.

For Byram, it was another game where he had a slow start but worked himself into the game’s flow and was taking over by the end of it. Games like today are what make him such a different kind of young player. Early struggles aren’t necessarily a sign of things to come as he has the rare ability to turn it around and get going the right way in the middle of the game.

He’s up to 17 points in just 30 games this season.

Special teams

The Avs finished 1-3 on the power play, scoring on their best chance with the 4v3 late in the second period to stretch the game to 3-1 and really start to put the game to bed. On the flip side, the penalty kill responded from a tough outing in Ottawa to kill three power plays, including one early in the third period that had a game-changing effect on the outcome.

After Andrew Cogliano was called for Tripping, the Avs PK went to work just minutes into the third period while nursing a 3-1 lead. If the Red Wings score there, it’s 3-2 with a ton of time to find that equalizer.

Not only did Detroit not score, but Valeri Nichushkin and Lars Eller combined for a short-handed goal that really turned the outcome from “still in question” to “pretty solidified.”


Sam Girard

This was just a mess for G from the very start. He didn’t have any of the tools working today. The puck-moving was a problem and led directly to Detroit’s only goal, the feet weren’t moving nearly as well as normal, and the coaching staff could tell it was going to have to find some answers today.

One of the “tells” from the coaching staff is how they handle Brad Hunt and Jack Johnson’s deployment. They have sprinkled in a lot of Toews-Makar action to help get them through those minutes but usually the guy going the best gets put with Johnson and the guy not going as well is next to Hunt in more limited splits.

Today, Byram went with Johnson and found success there and next to Toews on the odd shift, too, but Girard was strictly with Hunt and both of his assignments produced poor on-ice results. It just wasn’t a good one for Girard.

The goal against was something we’ve seen too frequently this season (albeit not nearly as often recently) when Girard took the puck from Georgiev and fired it softly up the wall. He didn’t get a lot of help from MacKinnon, but he was trying to avoid the hit from Larkin and forced the puck out a second too soon. If he takes the hit, he probably makes the play and MacKinnon is better positioned to do something there.

After the turnover, Girard doesn’t really provide any resistance to Suter. He doesn’t get his stick in a competitive position to make the play and his shot-blocking posture didn’t accomplish anything. It just wasn’t particularly well-played by Girard on a day he wasn’t anywhere close to his best.

Unsung Hero

“The Other (top six) Guys”

Colorado’s stars get so much shine, as they deserve, but today you saw every single other member of the top-six forwards get points along the way. Malgin had the great assist on MacKinnon’s goal, Compher picked up an assist on the Toews goal, Nichushkin had the assist on Eller’s SHG, and Rodrigues picked up an assist on Rantanen’s goal with a beautiful pass across the crease.

It’s not normal when all of your top six forwards contribute points, but in games where it happens, your team probably won. That certainly was the case today.

All of those guys had moments more than individually great games, but in the continued absence of Gabe Landeskog and Artturi Lehkonen, there’s a lot of pressure on these guys to help MacKinnon and Rantanen out upfront.

Today was a team pulling the rope in the same direction and getting a good result. You want to see more of this moving forward.


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


  1. As one of the sixty who always read your column, it’s again the best Avalanche hockey analysis available. I’d love to hear you discuss the Avs on NHL network. You’d be better at it than most anyone.

    • Experience mostly. Jack Johnson did the job to a respectable level in the Cup run last year and Englund still has a lot of room to refine some of the details in his game. Also Avs didn’t have to get up a draft pick, which they have very little of at their disposal.

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