I don’t know how many games in a row he’s been here, but it’s quite a few now. I think he’s playing great hockey and tonight was no exception. He gave up four goals and all of them were either great hockey, power play goals, or both. Anybody who watched Georgiev go under siege in the second period knows he was the primary reason this game had a competitive feel to it until the fourth Pittsburgh goal.
He was once again locked in and doing his thing, stuffing several backdoor passing plays and keeping a porous defense in front of him in the game with a great individual effort. It’s too bad the four-spot goes against him because he was the best Avs player tonight for my money.
I’ve talked before about how the real challenge Compher faces in the 2C job entering the postseason is that there won’t be anywhere to hide. Everyone has two good forward lines and it will be vital for Compher to be effective offensively and defensively against some of those matchups.
Tonight, we saw him go head-t0-head against both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as he saw just about five minutes of 5v5 time against each. The results? He broke even against both in shots on goal, doing a better job of shutting down the Malkin line but doing a respectable job against both and tied Crosby in goals at 1-1.
That’s a very encouraging result from Compher and his line. His goal and assist tonight were both well-earned and he was one of the few skaters tonight that stayed competitive throughout.
Colorado’s penalty takers
Among the players on the Avalanche who have taken the most minors this year, Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano are tied for fifth with 14 apiece (alongside Evan Rodrigues and Artturi Lehkonen). Given their frequency in the lineup, they don’t really take that many penalties per minute, but they are both key players on the Avalanche penalty kill so when they are called for infractions, it’s a double-whammy.
Then there’s Kurtis MacDermid, who was called for his 13th minor tonight in just his 39th game of the season.
All three happened in the second period and helped change the course of tonight’s game. MacDermid went first, then quickly followed by Cogliano to put Pittsburgh on a 5v3 just moments after Sidney Crosby had put them up 1-0. The Pens scored quickly to give them a two-goal advantage.
After the Avs had closed that gap to one goal, O’Connor took a careless tripping penalty and the PK gave up another goal to make it 3-1. All three have had a penalty problem. All three cost them tonight. You can make a solid argument or two on the quality of officiating in this game, but the reality is that the self-inflicted wounds tonight opened the door for what became the eventual result.
The Pens had 31 scoring chances tonight in all situations, which isn’t an astronomical number but certainly higher than a team of Colorado’s caliber is comfortable with. The Avs, for example, give up an average of about 26 scoring chances per 60 minutes at all situations. So again, tonight wasn’t an abomination or anything, but not as good as the standard the Avs have set this season.
No, it was the high-danger chances that really stood out to me as a problem. Of those 31 scoring chances, 17 (!!) were high-danger chances. The worst team in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, give up about 16 high-danger chances per night. That’s how bad Colorado’s defense, which allows an average of 12 high-danger chances per night this season, was tonight.
The royal road was scarcely populated by Avalanche defenders and was instead full of Penguins sticks, particularly that of Jeff Carter.
As a unit, this was a messy night and it isn’t as if there was a particular culprit you can point to. Bowen Byram and Sam Girard, playing apart from each other tonight, allowed seven high-danger chances while Devon Toews allowed six, all at even strength. If the Avs are going to be successful without half of their starting defense, they simply cannot allow that many free passes to the front of the net.
Despite Georgiev putting up a quality night, they still got him shelled with a poor team effort in the defensive zone.
Colorado’s third period
Down 3-1 going into the third period, you wanted to see that classic “home team pushes back for 20 minutes and claws back into the game” scenario play out. Against Pittsburgh, who has the second-most losses in the league when leading after two periods, they had an opponent with a tendency for allowing exactly that to play out.
While the Avalanche did eventually make it a 3-2 game and briefly make things interesting, they were outshot (13-8) and outchanced (7-6 and 5-4 at high-danger) at even strength, which includes the nearly five minutes Georgiev was on the bench and the Avs had the extra attacker.
That’s…incredibly disappointing on a night when the Avs could take the lead in their chase for the Central Division title. No other way to put it.
I think on a night where everyone is obsessed with the Crosby-MacKinnon storyline and Crosby scores a highlight-reel-worthy goal and all MacKinnon manages is a secondary assist, it’s easy to think that MacKinnon wasn’t much of a factor in this game.
I think it would be very fair to say that this wasn’t MacKinnon’s best game or anything, but he finishes with a strong showing in shot metrics and smoked two posts tonight. He came about one combined inch from potentially scoring two more goals, the first of which would have given the Avs a 1-0 lead in the first period.
If that happens, who knows how the night goes? Maybe Colorado pushes ahead and gets the win, maybe the Pens still outplay them in the second and third periods. We don’t know for sure, but we know that he came very close to two potentially game-changing plays, the second would have made it 4-3 in the last few minutes.
Maybe those “what if?” moments don’t change the outcome, but this felt like a good place to put MacKinnon, who did register his 60th assist and 90th point of the season. It wasn’t good enough, but only just. Game of inches, you know?