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I’ve covered the NHL since 1995 and tonight I learned something new: a guy can be called for high-sticking even if his stick never was raised higher than the logo on the front of his uniform.
I learned that tonight, when Nikita Zadorov was somehow called for high-sticking against Minnesota Wild smurf forward Jason Zucker midway through the third period, which led to a Wild power-play goal and a highly aggravating 3-2 Avalanche loss to the division foe at Xcel Energy Center.
Does this look like high sticking to you folks?
No, didn’t think so. The brutally bad call against the 6-foot-6 Zadorov against the 5-foot-something Zucker gave the Wild a power play, leading to the game-winning goal against Semyon Varlamov, whose main weakness is shots to his blocker side, as evidenced by the wobbler that beat him. Zucker had just laid a big hit on Marko Dano, and Zadorov just came over to address it, but in a totally calm manner, for him. Nonetheless, the refs only had eyes for a retaliatory move, and so off Z went despite doing absolutely nothing illegal.
As much as I’d love to pin the blame fully on that for the loss, though, I can’t. And neither can any other objective Avs watcher.
The other “I can’t believe that happened!” moment of the game came when the Avs went on the power play with 2:49 left in the third, down by the one goal still. For whatever reason, coach Jared Bednar elected to pull Varlamov for the extra skater, before the faceoff started in the Wild zone. Because the Avs can never win a faceoff in a key situation, of course, the draw was lost. A few seconds later, the puck was in the Avs’ empty net.
It was a horrendous blunder by Bednar. You’re already up a man, you know your team can’t win faceoffs, and yet you elect to take out your goalie in a one-goal game while on the PP? That, folks, proved the ultimate difference in the outcome, as the Avs added a goal with 42 seconds left to make it the 3-2 final.
The other reason why the Avs lost: a terrible power play, which included going nothing of significance on net during a 47-second 5-on-3 advantage in the first period, when they were up 1-0. All night long, the Avs refused to shoot the puck on the PP, preferring to reinvent the wheel rather than making fundamental shots on the cage.
A look at the heat map shows how the Avs were too perimeter in the game:
In the end, despite a gigantic help from a ridiculous call, the truth is: the Avs beat themselves.