Nathan MacKinnon

It was a tough night for #29 last night in Los Angeles and it appeared he might be headed for another disappointing night after the first two periods. A couple of posts in the first period were the highlight of MacKinnon’s night until the Avs got down 4-2 and the refs just kept gifting the Avs with power play chances.

Colorado had done nothing with their early power play chances, squandering multiple 5v3 opportunities and a double-minor. When the Avs went on the power play late in the third period and down by two goals, MacKinnon helped take over with an assist and two goals the rest of the way. His one-timer to tie the game was a picture-perfect blast that left me feeling bad for Ducks goaltender Lukas Dostal, who had a sparkling evening in net and got left hanging by the team in front of him.

MacKinnon somehow is now well over 100 points and is one goal shy of the 40-goal mark, an incredible turnaround of a season that saw him sitting on eight goals back on January 1. Maybe more than ever, as goes MacKinnon, so go the Avs.

Mikko Rantanen

MacKinnon’s running mate, Rantanen surpassed the 100-point barrier tonight to give him his first 100-point season and the Avs their first pair of 100-point teammates since Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg back in the first year the team moved to Colorado in 1995-96.

Rantanen’s two goals also tied him with Sakic for the Avalanche record, also set in 95-96, and let’s be real, 54 goals is a lot of goals. He still has three games to try to go for 60, which would be ten tons of fun.

Rantanen scored Colorado’s second goal on a beautiful play where he worked his way from the wall into the middle of the ice and used that world-class backhand to score his first of the night. His second of the night is the power play classic MacKinnon-to-Rantanen one-timer of doom.

In between those goals, Rantanen makes a truly atrocious play that directly creates and leads to Adam Henrique’s breakaway goal to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period. It was a brutal decision and execution that he needed to make up for.

He did.

Valeri Nichushkin

The train keeps chugging along and his physicality and skating both jumped off the ice to me tonight. He’s still lacking that little burst that used to allow him separation out wide and we saw how much he misses that element of his game in overtime when he tried to get it geared up but couldn’t quite make it happen.

Regardless, the rest of his game rocked. He was aggressive, he was effective on the forecheck and he finished with two assists. A strong night from him is almost always a strong night for the Avs.

His play-driving was quality and he and J.T. Compher sure look like they might be developing a little chemistry.


The officiating

This benefitted Colorado pretty handily, but eight power plays? A myriad of soft calls. including the interference call in overtime when Evan Rodrigues definitely takes some kind of contact but it sure looks like he sells the hell out of it to me.

There’s a thing that people like me have not been adequately covering in recent years (at least in my eyes) and it’s the rampant turnover of officials at the NHL level. There have been a grip of retirements from veteran officials, meaning new blood is being injected into their place and how they call the games sure feels as inconsistent as ever, but occasionally with more fervor.

I thought the way this game was called was pretty rough to watch. It ended up favoring the Avalanche, but I thought there were a lot of soft calls that were not worthy of calling. Going through the calls late in the game that helped lift the Avalanche to a comeback victory, only the trip of Devon Toews felt like a call that needed to be made.

I’m sure some will disagree (nobody ever agrees on anything when it comes to officiating), but if this was the karmic response for what officiating did to the Avs in the Panthers-Avs game in Denver earlier this year, then the scales have been evened, but my goodness was this not great, Bob.

Alex Newhook

This is really all about the fly-by attempt on Anaheim’s first goal. Lars Eller drives Vatrano out high to the blueline. He runs out of room, he has to stop and make a play. Newhook converges and is in a position to make something happen, but he lets Vatrano off the hook with a weak stick check attempt and Vatrano skates through it.

For the record, I’d like more from Eller in that moment, too, but it was clearly Newhook’s primary responsibility to take the ball from Eller and run with it. Instead, he dropped it.

When talking about the inconsistent sophomore year of Newhook, these kinds of defensive lapses are notable and a major reason why his role continues to find its way back into the bottom six while Denis Malgin and Evan Rodrigues get more consistent minutes higher in the lineup. Those two more consistently take care of the defensive side of the puck and their reward for that reliability has been the opportunity on offense that Newhook has lacked.

That one play to me exemplified how close Newhook is to it clicking and him “getting it” and the bumps and bruises a young player continues to go through on a championship squad that doesn’t have time to let him fail in a prominent role. It’s close, but still not quite there.

Unsung Hero

Devon Toews

Toews finishes with my favorite stat line of the year – 3 assists, -2. I’m not going to keep hammering away on the plus/minus stuff because the statistic is terrible and if you can’t understand why that is, even in the world of outliers where people are drawing strong conclusions instead of taking a deeper look to see what might be going on, then you’re never going to understand it and that’s fine. Just seems funny to me how this all played out.

Anyway, Toews played 30:12 tonight and was especially awesome in overtime. He finished with three assists, including one on the game-winning goal, but easily could have had a goal himself with golden chances in the third period and overtime. The shoulder save made by Dostal on Toews in overtime was big-time and kept the Ducks on life support before the Avs finished them off for good.

Toews without Makar has been more uneven than in previous years, but tonight was one of those nights where some wild stuff happened with him on the ice. The Ducks managed just six shots on goal in the 17:19 Toews played at 5v5, but three of those shots went in. There was territorial dominance by the Avalanche with Toews on the ice at 5v5, as there usually is.

He paired with Girard for 14:25 together and the Ducks had just five shots on goal against the duo. They scored three times, and that’s just how hockey goes sometimes. The response from Toews was fantastic and I loved his work in overtime.


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