After the disappointment of the loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on the road, Colorado had more than just points to worry about. The despondency shown in that game revealed a defeated Avalanche team that Jared Bednar described as “down.”
Tonight they were in search of a victory just as much as they were in search of themselves. The Ottawa Senators entered on the heels of a 5-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes, but are also experiencing injury issues of their own. They sat at 24th place in the standings with a 19-19-3 record.
About five minutes into the period, Colorado worked hard to clear the puck from their zone and attacked on the transition. Ottawa knocked the puck ahead off Mikko Rantanen’s stick, but Nathan MacKinnon was right there to settle it and deceptively leave it for Rantanen to recollect and rip to the back of the net from the right circle past Anton Forsberg.
A few minutes later, Cogliano intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and the Avs chased it into Ottawa’s end. Logan O’Connor and Cogliano stayed with it in a battle along the boards. O’Connor broke it free and Alex Newhook came streaking down the slot and beat Forsberg with his one-timer.
Around the midway point, MacKinnon drew a hooking penalty on Shane Pinto and got Colorado on the powerplay. It was ineffective. The first unit moved the puck well, but the shot selection did not pose a threat.
With five minutes remaining, Rantanen took an interference penalty and the Avs went on the kill. Seconds into its start, Pavel Francouz came up huge with a glove save on a point-blank chance. Francouz had to make at least two more at the start of this period, but he appeared dialed in, and the kill was successful.
The Avs closed out the first period with a strong two-goal lead. They outshot Ottawa 12-10 and 6-4 in dangerous chances. In five-on-five play, the Senators were right within striking distance, so the Avs would need to stay true to their process for another 40 minutes.
In the first three minutes of the period, Colorado spent a lot of time in their own end. They looked steady, but it was not ideal. Shortly after, the Avs were coming up ice through the neutral zone and former Ottawa Senator, Andreas Englund and Ottawa’s Austin Watson decided to drop the gloves. It appeared to be a gentleman’s fight, with Watson giving Englund a head pat after they were broken up.
At 10:55, Artturi Lehkonen came in all alone against defenseman Jake Sanderson on the breakaway. Lehkonen earned inside ice and fought hard to keep it. He outstretched the puck and wore Sanderson’s contact on his back, waiting for just the right moment to stuff the puck five hole. It was his first goal since December 21st.
This time with five minutes remaining, 15:57 into the second period, Rantanen picked the puck up from along the boards in his own end. He carried it through the neutral zone and dropped the puck to Newhook in the offensive zone. Newhook stickhandled through the slot and lost the puck which trickled over to Rantanen who one-timed it in.
Ottawa had once been within striking distance but lost a lot of ground in the second period. Colorado didn’t necessarily look dominant, but moreso opportunistic and predatory. The Avs maintained their shot advantage, 14-11 total and 8-4 high-danger opportunities. Francouz was tested less in this period down low but responded with saves at every test.
A cross-checking penalty from Kurtis MacDermid put the Avs on the kill early in the final period. The Avs withstood the kill and regained their footing.
At 12:39, Evan Rodrigues got tied up by Nick Holden, and Holden went to the box for holding.
On the powerplay, the puck had just trickled out of the offensive zone and Cale Makar retrieved it from his end. Nathan MacKinnon appeared hidden from Ottawa at the blueline and ready for the stretch pass. MacKinnon fed the puck to Lehkonen dashing through the slot and fired a shot from behind his back to give Colorado a five-goal lead.
Shortly after, newly recalled Sampo Ranta took a high-sticking penalty and Colorado went back on the penalty kill. Francouz had to swallow a couple pucks, but the kill was again successful.
With 4:11 to go, hard work from Lehkonen on the cycle kept play alive. Lehkonen sent the puck to Englund at the blueline. Englund fed Brad Hunt at the point and Hunt ripped a one-timer through little traffic.
At 18:10 into the final period, Colorado started in Ottawa’s end and Logan O’Connor applied pressure on the forecheck to knock the puck away from Sanderson. The puck danced to Cogliano who attempted the shot and broke his stick. Newhook was there to collect the puck and lift it in from the slot. That was more or less the game. With less than two minutes, the Avs shut it down 7-0.
Through three periods of play, the Avs successfully killed three penalties, scored on one of their two powerplay chances, controlled possession 5-on-5, outshot the Senators 33-29, and generated 14 dangerous chances to Ottawa’s nine. Through it all, they also found creation from 12 different players with scoring from top-six and depth players.
Pavel Francouz made 29 saves to earn the shutout and was a key player in the success of their penalty kill. Francouz made eight saves on high-danger chances – two of which came on the kill, and nine additional on medium-danger shots total. He earned his fourth win of the season and improved his save percentage to 0.911 on the season.
Load management and depth contributions: Cale Makar and Devon Toews had some of the most conservative ice times we’ve seen in a long while. The obvious reason is the secure lead and confident play of an Avalanche team which gave depth players a longer leash than usual. Tonight Makar played 21:50 and Toews played 21:47. Bednar also iced seven defensemen and eleven forwards which granted him options defensively. This is technically always an option, but it requires more of the forward group to spot-shift the hole on the third line between Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano in Darren Helm’s absence.
Andreas Englund, Brad Hunt, and Kurtis MacDermid combined for 63 shifts to alleviate some pressure within the d-corps. Up front, Newhook, Ben Meyers, and J.T. Compher rotated in and out of that third line. Newhook there specifically brought about success. Between Cogliano and O’Connor’s hard-nosed play, Newhook brought about a tenacity that brought him to dangerous areas exactly when he needed to be there. He was rewarded with two goals and an assist.
Jared Bednar said Newhook was outstanding and expressed excitement in cutting his film from tonight to show him tomorrow.
“I think that helped and worked,” Bednar said of the seven-eleven combination. “We had some forwards that weren’t playing much. If we can get something a little extra out of our D and give Makar and Toews a little rest, then that’s what we do. If you’re at 11 and you have a couple of forwards who aren’t going and not playing well, it tightens the screws a little bit on some of the other forwards and might overtax them, but it also gives their defense a little bit of a break.”
Bednar didn’t hate the Chicago game: Just an interesting note, but Bednar addressed his evaluation of the recent loss to the Blackhawks on Thursday.
“I didn’t mind it,” he said. “I went back on it, went back on it again, and everyone can give it to us. Chicago is a good team. There’s no easy games in this league. It’s a good league, right? I love it,” he explained.
“I liked our first period a lot. We made a couple of mental errors that cost us a goal. We go out in the third and we’re taking it to them. We make a mistake in the D zone and it ends up in the back of our net. Could we have been better? Yeah. Could we have capitalized on some chances? Yes. Could our powerplay have won us the game on any one of the power plays that we got? We didn’t, so we have to be better. That game isn’t as bad as everyone thinks. It seems bad because it’s losing seven of eight, right? Fans, media, (and) guys in our room feel like it’s terrible because we’re all remembering what’s happened in the recent past. If I separate that game on its own, I don’t think it was as bad as what everyone thinks it was.”
Turning the page on a game like that is necessary. It’s not only necessary for Bednar but his players as well. The strong response in tonight’s victory is a good step in the right direction. Colorado might be feeling more like themselves again. The response in their Edmonton game after the difficult loss in Vancouver was met with the disappointing loss against the Florida Panthers. It’s critical that the Avs demonstrate they can truly turn the page on bad games by following up a good night like tonight with another great game.