Colorado had the benefit of a day’s rest in between traveling from Montreal to Toronto. News of Artturi Lehkonen’s injury took some wind out of their sails. Jared Bednar went on Altitude Sports Radio to estimate that he’d miss four to six weeks with a broken finger. He should have had his procedure today and the team will get a clearer picture of his recovery following it.
In his absence the Avs used one of their coveted recalls, limited after the trade deadline, to bring up forward Alex Galchenyuk. In net again, Alexandar Georgiev would get the start.
Kurtis MacDermid and Darren Helm were not quite ready to go.
Though an East conference foe, tonight’s contest would be yet another test of the Avs’ ability to bring the necessary level of compete against playoff-caliber teams. The Leafs are second in the Atlantic behind an exceptional Boston team.
With 88 points and a second in the league powerplay, the Leafs would be every bit the challenge. Colorado, decimated even more by injury at the time, surely remembered the 6-2 loss on New Year’s Eve.
At 3:41 into the first, the Leafs opened up the scoring. The puck slipped away from Nathan MacKinnon in the offensive zone and trickled out for the Leafs to grab in transition. Colorado was quick to get back, but the Leafs had just enough time to set up inside and begin creating space. Bo Byram almost pokechecked the puck away, but the Leafs regained control.
Mitch Marner’s original shot bounced off Mikko Rantanen right back to him, so he fired the puck across to Morgan Rielly on the opposite half-wall. Rielly skated in and fired a shot from inside the left circle. Evan Rodrigues was caught a bit lost in space watching the play unfold without an assignment.
The rest of the period unfolded much more evenly. Shots were shared back and forth with opportunities taking turns each way.
At 12:39, Logan O’Connor was slashed and Colorado earned the powerplay chance. They generated two shots. Nathan MacKinnon worked to retrieve a blocked shot, and with thirty seconds left, Cale Makar sent the puck to Mikko Rantanen at the right circle. Rantanen looked like he directed a shot on net for Val Nichushkin to tip, but it actually hit Jake McCabe and in past Ilya Samsonov.
A few minutes later, Alex Newhook took a hooking penalty, and Colorado went on the kill. The kill was successful, and Toronto only managed one shot on net though they definitely had a couple of attempts.
The shots were split 9-7 in favor of the Avs, analytically it was close though the Avs had an edge in dangerous chances and possessions, but make no mistake, Toronto was very much in this.
This period unfolded similarly to the first with even more opportunities on special teams. Colorado went on the kill again at 3:21 after Evan Rodrigues took a high-sticking penalty. The Avs actually had a chance-for early on and won all two faceoffs. The Leafs were held to one shot on net again.
With four seconds left in that kill, Toronto took a too many men call and after a few seconds of four-on-four, the Avs had their own powerplay chance.
The Avs earned another powerplay at 11:56. Between those two powerplays, the Avs generated two shots on net, an additional attempt that missed, and lost both faceoffs.
Even with the failure to convert on the powerplay, Colorado maintained the paper-thin edge in this game. They out-chanced Toronto 8-4 through two periods. The shots were tilted even more in their favor at 10-4, and they controlled 5-on-5 possession.
Colorado received two powerplay chances close together early in this period as well. They had three attempts blocked and one on net.
This was the first period that Colorado was outshot at 7-6. The Avs created three high-danger chances and kept Toronto from registering any through two periods. The shots and possession disparity, given it was just a one-goal game for the Avs, could be partly reconciled by the number of attempts Colorado had blocked. The Leafs made 22 blocks to the Avs’ 12 in total.
Both teams played great defensively. So much so, this game heeded to overtime.
For overtime, Colorado started with Mikko Rantanen, J.T. Compher, and Devon Toews. Colorado generated four shots and Toronto registered none. They completely controlled the overtime period even if they didn’t always select the best looks. After five minutes, these two teams would face one another in the shootout.
Alexandar Georgiev gloved down William Nylander, and made the pad save on Auston Matthews. Nathan MacKinnon snuck the puck past Samsonov. Georgiev came with the final save on Mitch Marner to win it for Colorado.
The Avs escaped with two points in this closely fought contest.
Team defense: Andrew Cogliano has described team defense as a key to the Avs’ success this season. He mentioned that depth scoring is important too, but when the Avs have experienced finishing struggles and close games this season, team defense has emerged as critical to reducing errors.
Obviously, the goal against in this game reveals a lapse in their defensive zone coverage, but the Avs made smart work in all three zones – the neutral zone in particular. It was a combination of speed and traffic skating to slip through the neutral zone in transition to gain the offensive zone or defending against the rush by holding the line at center ice.
Toronto finished with a 36.78% Corsi for percentage at even strength largely thanks to the teamwide effort to execute defensively. This meant each line rising to the expectations of their match ups, and the Avs met that challenge. Hits were 22-21, and the penalty kill was perfect through all three chances.
Not lost in this is the centerpiece of a team’s defense and it ends with their last line of defense: in net. Alexandar Georgiev was not tested as much as other nights, but he made 17 of 18 saves in regulation. He rose to the occasion with three saves on three of some of the best shooters in the league. This was an all-hands-on-deck situation and everyone did their part.