The Avs have not scored first in their last six games (3-2-1), and each of those wins did not come in regulation. Nathan MacKinnon sought to change that.
Twenty-five seconds in, the Avs chased the puck back in their own end after the opening faceoff. Artturi Lehkonen sacrificed his body at the blueline to complete a pass up ice to Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen slipped MacKinnon a slick backhand feed through the legs of Nic Hague and MacKinnon beat Logan Thompson.
Vegas took back-to-back penalties, but Colorado was unable to convert. They cycled the puck well and created plenty of chances, leaving chaos in their wake.
A rare Cale Makar turnover during the first powerplay gave Chandler Stephenson a shorthanded chance, but Georgiev denied his backhand attempt.
Under the ten-minute mark, after enduring a heavy hit earlier, Andreas Englund dropped the gloves with Keegan Kolesar. It was a close bout, Englund held his own, but Kolesar may have had the slight edge.
MacKinnon waited out the sliding Knight to feed Rantanen whose shot would ping off the crossbar. The thrilling sequence led to a transition the other way and Nic Hague ripped a shot from up high. Georgiev’s glove was up, but Michael Amadio tipped the puck in from a difficult angle that change the puck’s trajectory and in. Tie game.
MacKinnon earned inside ice on the backcheck to stop Stephensen on a breakaway chance.
It was an eventful period of hockey with a goal, a fight, some frustrating denials in the offensive zone, and close calls in the defensive zone. You’d like to see them capitalize on one of two powerplay chances, but the Avs played heavy and physical, outshot the Knights, and controlled possession. The Knights however created the most dangerous chances requiring big saves from Georgiev.
Cale Makar and William Carrier took penalties right at the start of the second – Carrier for hooking and Makar for holding the stick theatrically.
A missed high-sticking call on Brad Hunt created a disadvantage at the netfront. Georgiev made the kick save on Kolesar, but Kolesar collected the rebound in the corner and nudged the puck up to Nicolas Roy who beat Georgiev glove side – planted in front of him was a falling Hunt just trying to recover for the stick to his face.
The Avs outlasted their first penalty kill of the game after Cogliano took an interference penalty. Fortunately, the PK unit locked it down.
As the period came to a close, the Avs got caught in the middle of a change and Devon Toews and Cale Makar attempted to defend a three-on-two. Nic Roy was able to set up Carrier at the right circle and get himself in the slot to deflect Carrier’s shot in. Vegas took the lead 3-1.
Martin Kaut drew a tripping penalty and J.T. Compher had a terrific chance from the slot denied by the post on the subsequent powerplay.
Still, the Golden Knights dominated the period. Vegas controlled possession 5-on-5 and otherwise, outshot the Avs (15-9), and generated more dangerous chances (8-1). Avs spent too much time in their own end. Though they killed their own penalty, they were now zero-for-three on the powerplay.
An early holding call drawn by Devon Toews marked the fourth powerplay the Avs were unable to convert on.
At 8:52, Lehkonen sent the puck to the net and Thompson kicked his leg out to seal the crease, but Mikko Rantanen appeared to stuff it just under his pad. The officials blew the whistle and declared “no goal,” but MacKinnon was seen pointing to the back of the net to indicate that the puck went in before the whistle.
After review, the play was considered a good goal and Mikko Rantanen was credited with his 25th goal of the season.
Similar to how the game began, the top line and top pair had a great shift, strong zone pressure. MacKinnon drew a high-sticking call, and the Avs would get another powerplay chance with 5:46 remaining. In an unlikely fashion, the Avs went zero for five on their powerplay chances for the night.
At about two minutes remaining, Georgiev made a flurry of saves to keep the Avs in it. Once they regained possession after, Georgiev was pulled and the net was empty. Toews’ play in the final minutes was huge. He helped to clear the puck from the crease before the goaltender was pulled and helped to prevent an empty net goal chance.
Thompson stood tall and shut down Colorado’s chances. The Avs would remain winless in 2023. Colorado righted many of their wrongs from the second period in the third. Colorado regained the shot advantage (11-6), and sustained more zone pressure.
In the end, Logan Thompson made the saves he needed to and the lapses in the second period cost the Avs this game.
Vegas is imposing – the physicality of Vegas is a sore subject. Colorado is no stranger to their heavy, physical play. In games like this, the eye test is a necessary supplement to advanced stats for a couple reasons. You’ll see how the Avs conducted 29 hits to Vegas’ 24. In this regard, I wouldn’t classify Colorado as getting worked over. A couple players stood out as particularly enduring (Artturi Lehkonen), but you could see the way physicality gave Vegas an edge in puck battles.
Not unlike games we’ve watched recently, the netfront chances allowed compared to what the Avs generated supported this. Vegas was able to operate inside home plate where Georgiev was tested mightily (11 high-danger saves against 13 high-danger chances) 18 high-danger chances to Colorado’s 4. Vegas definitely made themselves hard to play against. An example which springs to mind is the way that Ben Meyers just didn’t stand a chance against Keegan Kolesar in their brief board battle on the second goal. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on Meyers’ part, Kolesar is just imposing like that.
Darren Helm’s return – Everything about his return was pitched as a cautionary tale. We heard he’d be sheltered and Bednar said not to expect miracles. After the daunting and at times discouraging process of his recovery, I was nervous to see him play tonight. I was afraid he’d poof into a cloud of dust on impact, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. He was rightfully sheltered on the fourth line alongside Martin Kaut and Kurtis MacDermid with 8:55 on the night. It was more than his linemates, he dished five hits, won a few faceoffs, and even PK’ed. Just seeing Helm dress for his first game of the season felt like a miracle. I’m relieved at his presence and counting on better to come.
The return of MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen’s sole impact has been a marvel, but there’s just something about Nathan MacKinnon returning from an injury that immediately adds life back into the lineup. Rantanen’s greatness is made better alongside MacKinnon. After missing time since the December 5th game against the Flyers, MacKinnon returned for their December 31st game against the Leafs, but I’m really starting his clock tonight.
He had a goal (25 seconds into the game), an assist, by and away the team-high in shots (eight) with three additional attempts missed and two additional blocked. Both Rantanen and MacKinnon led the forwards in TOI at just over 27 minutes each and had the best Corsi for percentage (66.67%) of any player behind Artturi Lehkonen (73.17%). MacKinnon mentioned not having a chance to run the powerplay in practice since his return, so you can expect it to get better once he gets his perfectionist hands on it.
Injury notes – I know it doesn’t feel good. With the return of Nathan MacKinnon and Martin Kaut, the Avs went without Evan Rodrigues who suffered an upper-body injury late in Saturday’s Toronto game. Though he was a full participant at morning skate, the injury flared up and rendered him unable to play. Fortunately it doesn’t sound serious and he’s listed as day-to-day. Rodrigues has been one of the only offensive weapons firing on all cylinders as of late, so it’s not a loss taken lightly. You hate to think of what he might have been able to bring to tonight’s close game.
Like Bednar outlined in his timetable for Josh Manson recently, Manson is on track and expected to skate tomorrow.
Francouz remains in a day-to-day/week-to-week purgatory with a lower-body injury. He was placed on IR which doesn’t reveal much except that he will miss at least seven days. Given the way the Avs/Eagles recalled Jonas Johansson (and Lukas Parik to the Eagles) it suggests that they knew it would be about this amount of time. Parik is the backup goaltender in Utah, so his recall to the Eagles won’t disturb Trent Miner’s starts in the ECHL and Justus Annunen will get first dibs in the AHL for the time being.