The Colorado Avalanche had another task at hand before their quick road trip wrapped.
After an impressive win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday – six unanswered goals after trailing by three – the Avs had one last stop in Nashville tonight.
Tonight’s outcome is best revealed by ripping off the Band-Aid. The Avs scored first and secured a lead in the second period. They kept that lead until the final twenty seconds wherein they gave up two goals and the Nashville Predators won 4-3.
Alexandar Georgiev earned the start in net and Josh Manson returned to the lineup. Coming out of it was Sam Girard, so Caleb Jones subbed in his place.
It was a weird first period. Both teams only played 12:11 at five-on-five due to a string of penalties on either side.
On their first kill, Cale Makar intercepted a pass above the defensive blueline and carried the puck up ice on the rush. Makar dropped it back to Val Nichushkin who sent the puck on net for Andrew Cogliano to bang home from the top of the crease.
It was Cogliano’s third goal in consecutive games. Between Logan O’Connor and Miles Woods’ contributions – it was their fifth shorthanded goal of the season.
Their time on special teams was disruptive to the flow of the game, and the Avs didn’t look like their details were fully dialed in.
Georgiev was excellent – coming up with seven saves on high danger chances including a flurry of opportunity from Nashville during one burst.
Even with the 1-0 lead and a strong performance from Georgiev, the Avs let one slip by in the final twenty seconds…an unfortunate precursor for what awaited them later.
Cody Glass reset up high. Logan O’Connor challenged him and Miles Wood confusingly also took him on. Glass dumped the puck to Filip Forsberg in a hurry. As a result, Forseberg skated in uncontested to the left circle. He sent a ridiculous wrister to the far-side corner.
On their third shot of the second period, Ryan O’Reilly won the faceoff clean and the Predators reset after Jeremy Lauzon’s shot went wide. On his second attempt, Lauzon fired the puck in past Georgiev who was screened by O’Reilly in the front.
Five minutes later, Makar and Nathan MacKinnon cycled the puck in Nashville’s end, and Toews fired a one-timer from the right circle in past Juuse Saros.
The second period contained three minor penalties.
On Colorado’s first powerplay chance, Makar walked the blueline in search of the perfect play. He took his shot and Nichushkin got his blade down in time to deflect it in.
Their five-on-five was a bit disrupted again, but it was a better period for Colorado. They spent more time in Nashville’s end and held the Preds to just six shots.
In the third period, Colorado just had to hold it down and they almost did down to the final forty seconds.
Mikko Rantanen took a tripping penalty and the sequence that followed exhausted the Avs. They managed the kill, but the PK tired out key players from that unit.
Bo Byram took a 1:19 shift followed by a 2:30 shift just two minutes later – the latter of which Nashville scored their tying goal. Devon Toews was on the ice for 1:18 and Rantanen came on after for 2:27.
Sixteen seconds apart, the Nashville Predators scored twice to claim the win in the final moments.
First, the Avs were under duress on a long shift in their own end as mentioned above. They were clearly gassed and desperately fumbling for a clear.
Colton Sissons sent the puck on net and the rebound bounced up into the air for Forsberg to sneakily bat in.
There’s no skirting around the game-winning goal for Nashville.
The Preds won a center ice draw and cleared the puck into the Avs end. Makar meant to play the puck behind the boards but simultaneously lost it from his stick – once he got it, he bounced it awkwardly off the back-wall and took a tumble behind the net.
The puck landed right at the crease and Jack Johnson tried to sweep it away but it went right to Cole Smith. Smith took the initial shot and Yakov Trenin knocked the loose puck in. Johnson, on his knees in the blue paint trying to take up space, could have perhaps instead challenged Trenin if not for his awkward position inside the crease.
It was a collection of honest, ugly mistakes. Costly mistakes.
This game was well within their grasp, so much so they played quite conservatively in the third period because they could afford to.
Until they couldn’t. The penalties continued to be a disruptor and despite a perfect penalty kill on the night (four-for-four), the shorthanded ice time came for them in the end.
To measure the game outside the final minute, it was a decent game from the Avs – not removed from criticism but good in several areas: they won the special teams battle despite a couple of their powerplays lacking creation and provided Georgiev goal support.
There’s an important lesson to be learned about the paper thin margin of error in today’s NHL even against a thin Nashville lineup.
There’s also a conversation to be had about load management as it relates to setting the team up for success by playing a disciplined game. Guys don’t need to take two minute shifts if they’re not fresh off a kill which allowed a team to make a late push.
And beyond that, players like Cale Makar don’t make mistakes like that often. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but there’s not much to analyze when the mistake is equally egregious and uncharacteristic.
Inside tonight’s game he recorded three assists and surpassed Adam Foote on the franchise leaderboard, now ranked third among all Avs defensemen.
He also became the fourth NHL player to record three consecutive games with three-plus assists.
Even still, the Avs left two points on the table and couldn’t hang on even just to collect one.
They have a lot to prove on Wednesday when they play a hot Vancouver Canucks team.
Was this an anomaly or can they course correct?