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Avs-Maple Leafs Game 43 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 14, 2024



I’ve written about this before but the Avalanche keep providing me opportunities to do exactly that. Getting down multiple goals isn’t a recipe for success. It just isn’t. That said, you have to win the game you’re in and when you finish the first period down 3-0 but having played a pretty even game otherwise, it’s easier to feel like you can find your way back in.

That’s what the Avs did tonight. They put the clamps on that vaunted Toronto offensive attack in periods two and three as the Maple Leafs combined to create seven scoring chances and only two high-danger chances at 5v5 in that time. That kind of defensive effort makes it easier to erase a multi-goal deficit, but that’s dominance.

Then keep in mind the Avalanche did it with essentially nine forwards in this game (they ran 11F/7D and played Caleb Jones a little at forward and Kurtis MacDermid only played 3:58) and five defensemen after Jack Johnson got hurt and Jones only briefly moonlighted on the bottom pairing in the third period.

Add in that they were missing Bowen Byram, Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, and Miles Wood and that they still erased that deficit on the back of the forward corps (defensemen combined for only two points).

Very impressive.

The top line

When it came down that Nichushkin was also missing this game due to illness, you just knew it was going to fall on Colorado’s top three forwards to make noise in this game. Once it got to 3-0, you really knew it was going to take a great night from Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen.

They got it.

All three players finished with one goal and one assist and they all happened quite a bit differently. Drouin’s goal came on the power play when Toronto stopped playing because of an impending 5v3 call and Ross Colton found Drouin alone in front. Rantanen’s goal came on a rebound opportunity from a Sam Girard shot. MacKinnon’s goal was the only play that all three players combined on as he kickstarted the breakout and then sprinted up the ice while Drouin and Rantanen gained the offensive zone and found MacKinnon in space. He beat Martin Jones cleanly and that was that.

The numbers were shocking, too, with that trio producing a 19-5 advantage in scoring chances and 9-3 in high-danger chances in 16:22 of 5v5 time. Toronto has spent a ton of money on the top of their forward corps and it is easily their greatest strength. For Colorado’s top guys to do that against the “Core 4” of Toronto is embarrassing for them, especially in their own barn, and a stark reminder of why people don’t believe in their ability to win big.

Ross Colton

The Avs needed something from a guy not on that top line. Colton gave them a goal and an assist, both of which were a little silly, but still count all the same.

Colton’s assist was on the Drouin goal when Toronto inexplicably stopped playing and then his goal came on his second chance at an empty-net goal. He cashed it and made it 5-3 and was his first goal in 13 games. Hopefully that gets him moving in the production department again, but it can be tough when your primary linemates in the game are Joel Kiviranta and Logan O’Connor (who extended his point streak to six games).

Despite being a bit overmatched in the talent department, that Colton line actually had some success. They played 8:31 together at 5v5 and had a 4-3 shots on goal advantage and generated seven scoring chances while only allowing two. That’s pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.


The defensemen as forwards

Things haven’t been a trainwreck with Kurtis MacDermid primarily as a forward this season, but the Avs have been playing with fire a bit with both a harsh flu bug ripping through the locker room and traveling with no extra forwards. They paid the price tonight with a forward whom they clearly don’t trust and whose season-high ice time is 9:09 (his next highest is 6:28) in MacDermid.

They rolled Caleb Jones as the other forward on the fourth line to start the game. The Avs have gotten away with this in recent years because of MacDermid and old friend Jacob MacDonald, but both of those guys have shown some feel for the position. Jones looked like he was on the moon as a forward and it arguably cost them a goal.

A failed Jones clear turned into a shot on goal and MacDermid was one of several players in front of the Avalanche net accomplishing exactly nothing as Timothy Liljegren scored the third Toronto goal. It was a disaster of a shift for everyone.

The numbers tell a shockingly poor story, too.

In only 3:58 of 5v5 time, MacDermid was on the ice for six Toronto shots on goal while the Avs generated zero and Toronto had five scoring chances and the Avs only one. In 3:58! Jones wasn’t any better and despite playing nine shifts in the third period, some on defense, his numbers were also a trainwreck.

MacDermid as a forward has been an interesting exercise in team chemistry this season and his extremely limited usage (he’s averaging 4:39 in his 20 games played) has not hurt them, but it is difficult to find an on-ice hockey reason that it has helped them. He’s just not doing very much, including fighting (his only fight this year was against Jamie Oleksiak). I know the guys love him and he isn’t in the lineup when the Avs are healthier, but this continues to be a strange use of very limited salary cap space by the Avalanche.

Also, Jones is a decent rotational defenseman who has a pretty good argument to be a legit sixth D on the Avs right now, but his time as a forward should probably be over for good. He looked terrible.

They both looked terrible in a game they could have really used a little extra forward depth (or not, I guess, since they won anyway).

More health stuff

The Avs were without Nichushkin in this one due to illness and after seeing what Miles Wood has gone through the last week or so, I have no confidence this will be a quick one for Nichushkin but we’ll see. Tonight was the first of three games in four nights so it would really be nice to see the Avs get on the right side of some this health stuff to keep this winning momentum going.

Add in that tank-disguised-as-a-human Jack Johnson also got hurt and left this game and you have some question marks for the next few days. The Avs have an extra defenseman on the trip in Jones but if things don’t improve for the health of the forwards, what’s the plan here?

We’ll see what the next couple of days bring as we already saw a midgame call-up of Justus Annunen, suggesting something might be wrong with Ivan Prosvetov as well. Will he be the only one?

It doesn’t feel like the Avs are too far from close to full health as Wood, Nichushkin, and Lehkonen could all be back on this road trip. It sure would help if that happened, but we’ll see. The All-Star break seems like it can’t come soon enough for so many teams right now.

Unsung Hero

Alexandar Georgiev

This was a hard-luck start for Georgiev as the first goal he allowed was just some nonsense. A floating puck that hits Josh Manson’s upper body and redirects in over the top of him? What the hell? Then he gives up a breakaway goal when Devon Toews misplays a puck and then Sam Girard has a confusing sequence and Georgiev ends up laying on the ice helpless as the Leafs score their third goal of the first period.

Rough start! Not all Georgiev’s fault (how many times have we said THAT this season…) but you have to give the guy credit. He responded and stopped everything else that came his way. The Avalanche tightened the screws in front of him and allowed very little. Toronto registered 15 shots on goal in the first period and then only 14 combined in periods two and three. They made Georgiev’s life easier and then he kept them in it and helped create the environment for a comeback by putting a stop to the Toronto scoring.

The numbers weren’t anything to write home about but he gave the Avs a chance to win after an ugly start.

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