I thought tonight was a very good example of where Eller is going to be valuable for Colorado in the postseason, but on the end of the ice where you don’t expect many contributions from him.
We have seen plenty of the defensive excellence that has been a staple of Eller’s career but the offense has been, as predicted, slow to come as he just isn’t that style of player. In a game against a defense-minded opponent who led for much of the night and felt comfortable sitting back on their heels, Eller provided valuable assistance on offense with a more cycle-oriented style of play.
He isn’t much of a transition player at this stage of his career, but Eller’s boardwork and smarts remain strong attributes of his game and he is able to help create off the cycle, something teams will have to do against the Wild in the playoffs to be successful. Eller’s goal tonight was just good, quality hockey. He went to the net, found a soft spot in the defense, put his stick down, and waited for a chance to make a play. He did, and it’s too bad it won’t be a more meaningful moment.
What do you even say about him? When he’s playing with the type of confidence we saw tonight, he has the potential to be a top-flight defenseman in the entire NHL. Not a guy who makes his living on Colorado’s second pair, or even is fine riding shotgun alongside Cale Makar.
There are no shadows for Byram, only goals to achieve. He combines supreme talent with an excellent work ethic and his 10th goal in just his 36th game of the season is a glimpse of the type of play the Avs have on their hands.
He’s an elite talent that’s still a work in progress. That work tonight was among Colorado’s best. He is a player who has consistently met the moments of his life when the pressure lands on his shoulders. He was absolutely flying tonight and, for my money, Colorado’s best player.
Colorado’s game-changing mistakes
The reality here is that Minnesota scored three goals and all three could have been avoided had an Av simply made a simple play along the way. The first goal, Alexandar Georgiev plays a puck directly to a Wild player when he had support. He blindly threw a pass to nowhere and hoped for the best. The second goal, Sam Girard provides essentially zero resistance to Sam Steel in front of his own net while Georgiev sat like a gargoyle statue in his cage and made no moves whatsoever.
The third goal? That’s Cale Makar putting himself in the worst position he possibly could have. Makar either needs to back up to defend against the oncoming rush or he needs to go full send and make a desperation play on the puck. Going halfsies on it is what got Makar so badly out of position and prevented him from making any kind of play to prevent Gaudreau to have a clean breakaway for the majority of the break down the ice.
It wasn’t that the Avs as a club were playing terrible hockey. They were slow too to engage from the start and the mistakes they made were just brutally bad. They deserved for bad things to go their way before finding their game. None of Colorado’s big three of MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen deserves a reprieve. Mess for all three, especially with the Wild having no Kirill Kaprizov today. Ridiculous from these guys.
Was the hockey world prepared to celebrate Avs-Wild in a chase for the division at this stage of the year? Sure, why not? But Georgiev vs. Gustavsson that only has the requisite juice if you’ve watched both players take and solidify the starting goalie job in their respective organizations.
While Gustavsson was brilliant again today as he fends off a months-long push from Marc-Andre Fleury to sustain his excellence, Georgiev floundered in a huge start for him. While there’s no doubt who the man in Colorado’s net is, this was one of the more disappointing efforts from Georgiev in the month of March. The pass to nobody on the first goal, the passive play watching Girard get outmuscled on the second goal, he played too large a role in watching his team give up two goals in the opening frame.
He got better as the game went on, including stopping a breakaway later that would have slammed the door shut on a potential Avalanche comeback much earlier. This was a statement game and what we saw from Gustavsson screamed, “I’m ready” while the question surrounding Georgiev’s viability in the postseason took no steps to being answered.
Colorado’s power play
Avs lose 4-2, give up two shorthanded goals and don’t score on the man advantage for the first time in 13 games. It’s tough to be so hard on a unit that just scored 12 consecutive games, second-best in Avalanche history, but Colorado was just so terrible when they had the opportunity to put some of their 5v5 struggles behind them by catching up on the scoreboard with special teams.
Then came Makar’s misplay and Frederik Gaudreau scored to make it 3-1. The last one hurt to watch but was overall pretty easy for Gaudreau to have a pretty good day. This unit was lethargic and lacked a sense of urgency to get things turned around at all.
Mikko Rantanen had plenty of scoring chances in this game with 13 shot attempts and a ridiculous eight scoring chances all on his own, but he put only four of them on goal and watched golden opportunity after golden opportunity slide off his stick. For a guy chasing 50 goals on the season, it sure looked like he hadn’t even scored five to this point. An awful day for the Colorado power play and, in particular, Mikko Rantanen.
This is a tough one. I should probably have Eller in this slot, but I wanted to give a little bit of love to Newhook, who fought through a lot of the game to be a dangerous player at times.
There’s no doubt his raw production sits at a disappointing 27 points and he has just one goal in his last 26 games. That’s absolutely frustrating, but the kid is working through it. He’s never been a depth guy in his entire life and he’s still learning how to do it in the hardest league in the world.
His end tally tonight? 15:21 played, four shots on goal, but seven shot attempts on five scoring chances of his own. He needs to bury one of those five. Absolutely agree with anyone angry-reading this right now. That has to happen. He is much too talented an offensive player to be stuck in this kind of rut, which has to be weighing on him a little more each game that goes by and he doesn’t lift this weight off of him.
I admire the hard work, however, as he ate three hits to try to make plays with the puck tonight. The sacrifice and hard work were all there, it’s the finish that needs to show up if he’s going to prove worthy of bigger roles in the NHL. This was a process win for Newhook, and hopefully it helps him build into something bigger on Saturday against Dallas.