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Avs-Golden Knights Game 42 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 11, 2024

Studs

Valeri Nichushkin

He scored two goals and proved too much of a difficult load for Vegas to handle. He doesn’t do much special here. He’s big and plants his flag in front of the Vegas net. Mikko Rantanen makes two great passes to him and he finishes.

It shouldn’t be taken for granted that Nichushkin has provided a huge boost in scoring goals in front of the net. We talked so much last season about how the Avalanche missed Gabe Landeskog last season because they didn’t have a consistent presence in front of the opposing goaltender and the finishing right around the net was too hard to do regularly.

Nichushkin’s goal-scoring prowess on the power play has transformed how that unit is attacking as it relies less on the shooting ability from the outside and more on the premier playmaking from Mikko Rantanen, Jonathan Drouin, and Nathan MacKinnon. All of it is geared toward feeding pucks to Nichushkin, who is now second in the NHL in power-play goals with 13, only one behind Sam Reinhart.

Colorado’s top line

The Drouin-MacKinnon-Rantanen trio dominated a game in which Vegas was missing ace 2C, William Karlsson. That left Jared Bednar free to put his dominant top line against Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone.

You can understand why Vegas head coach Bruce Cassidy would prefer to split Stone and star center Jack Eichel as he sought some lineup balance, but all it provided in this game was cannon fodder for an Avalanche team that ripped through Vegas.

The MacKinnon trio had a 14-3 shots on goal advantage in 15:51 of 5v5 time and added a 12-3 scoring chance advantage. They completely dominated. They weren’t rewarded at 5v5 but they scored twice on the power play for good measure, both off ridiculous passes from Rantanen.

This line could have scored four goals with a little better finish. They completely dominated and the compromised Vegas lineup was unequipped to handle them.

Alexandar Georgiev

A 25-save shutout against Vegas is a pretty good way to build back that confidence. He was competitive against Boston and then stonewalled the Bruins in overtime and the shootout. It built into this game where the poor fun of form Vegas has been on for the last month continued, but Georgiev gets full marks. He gave up zero goals.

That’s his job, isn’t it? Stop pucks. He stopped all of them, the most dangerous being two bang-bang chances from Mark Stone on the doorstep.

Funny how when a goalie stops everything and makes most of it look routine there just isn’t a lot to talk about. Great night for Georgiev.

Consistency

More than any one line or individual, the most impressive aspect of this game from Colorado’s perspective was how consistently strong the Avs were. It was a competitive first period that actually saw Vegas outshoot Colorado 11-10, but the Avs scored late and had a major advantage in scoring chances (11-6) and high-danger chances (5-1).

From there, the Avs only got better and better. They outshot Vegas 14-5 in the second period and scored again, pushing them to a 2-0 lead heading into the third. Colorado poured on the pressure again until they got the third goal from Logan O’Connor at 9:20 of the final frame and eased back on the throttle a bit, focusing on more of a defensive-oriented approach. It worked, as did everything else Colorado did tonight.

You could make the argument these last two games were the best two games Colorado has played this year given the way they won and the quality of competition they beat.

Duds

Penalties

In an otherwise exceptional game, I guess the one thing I’ll ding the Avs for here is taking four penalties.

What else is there honestly to criticize? Even then, they killed off all four Vegas power plays and didn’t allow much. In eight minutes of PP time, Vegas managed a 9-3 shot on goal advantage but only six scoring chances and four high-danger chances. Hell, the Avs PK generated two high-danger chances of its own.

Unsung Hero

Caleb Jones

O’Connor’s goal that made it 3-0 was the icing on a pretty delicious cake (an extended his point streak to five games), but it was all created by the work of Jones. He had two excellent keeps at the blue line to extend the offensive possession for the Avalanche. Eventually the puck found O’Connor, who whipped it on net and got a fortuitous bounce off the stick of Nicolas Hague.

You’ll take the good fortune, of course, but the catalyst for the goal was Jones, whose play has certainly cemented my belief that Colorado doesn’t really need to be in the market for another defenseman this trade deadline season. He is steady and even though he can be a little more high event than you’d prefer from a third-pairing player (32 shot attempts, 19 for the Avs, in 10:24 of 5v5 time is very busy, but at least it was in Colorado’s favor), he has shown to be the kind of solid value find at the bottom of their roster that raises the floor of the roster.

Jones also was active in jumping in offensively and activating, a must for Avalanche defensemen, and seeing him find that comfort level in the system should inspire confidence that if any long-term injuries on defense to the guys who aren’t Devon Toews or Cale Makar occur, Jones can be a stable fill-in option.

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