Cale Makar

The guy was awesome tonight right up until the moment he wasn’t. He had three assists and was driving play in a way nobody else on Colorado’s team was. His skating was on point and he was using his legs to cause problems and his puck-moving was, well, good enough for three more assists tonight. Makar was spectacular again.

Yes, you cannot write the story of this game without mentioning the mistake at the end where he overskates the puck and falls down. I’m not saying to overlook it, but let’s be real. It was a freak thing that doesn’t normally happen. The game-winning goal isn’t 100% Makar’s fault (it’s not 100% anybody’s fault) and I’m keeping the rest of Makar’s strong night in mind when writing this.

Valeri Nichushkin

This dude, my goodness is he ever on a heater? He got the primary assist on Andrew Cogliano’s shorthanded goal in the first period and then put the Avs ahead 3-2 with his power-play goal in the second period. He had a slow offensive start but that is well in the past now as he has become Colorado’s main netfront presence and his ability to tip pucks has been game-changing for the Avalanche offense (and specifically the power play).

The normal puck-hunting tendencies were also in play tonight and he played another solid overall game. His game has stepped up so much.


The shift on the game-tying goal

There are so many small chances to make plays and the Avs fail to make every single one along the way. Here’s the shift start from the puck entering the zone until the game is tied.

By my count, there were certainly four Avalanche opportunities to do something:

  • Colton with the bouncing puck
  • Toews behind the net
  • Rantanen in front of the net
  • Toews in front of the net
  • Maybe Toews again after the puck hits Byram’s chest?

You can see the shift length at the bottom of the screen. There are some tired Avs out there, but that is a no-excuses time of the game. Multiple players had chances to at least clear the puck and get some kind of relief. They didn’t. There was some bad luck along the way, such as Rantanen’s attempt hitting an Avalanche skate, but that’s hockey. Sometimes you make the plays, sometimes you don’t.

They didn’t. The puck ended up in their own net.

The very next shift

16 seconds separate the game-tying goal and game-winning goal. In case you want to sit through it again:

Find one thing that isn’t a mess. Makar at center ice doesn’t control a rolling puck, which he tries to regroup and backhand off the back wall. He doesn’t get all of it and creates his own problem, then overskates and falls down. Alexandar Georgiev has no idea what’s going on, which translates to Jack Johnson who instead of trying to do anything with the puck after Georgiev makes the initial save decides to cosplay as Georgiev himself. It doesn’t go well and two points in the standings turned into zero just like that.

Jared Bednar

Here’s the situation after Nashville tied the game:

  • Sam Girard did not play tonight as he was away from the club for personal reasons
  • Devon Toews and Bowen Byram were out for long shifts for the game-tying goal
  • Makar and Jack Johnson were fresh
  • They only had to get through 37.7 seconds
  • Neither Josh Manson nor Makar play the left side very much so why put them in a weird spot at the end of a game?
  • The coaching staff clearly trusts Johnson
  • The coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust Caleb Jones yet

So the response to Nashville tying the game is the Avs putting Johnson on the ice with Makar, a weird pairing that has played just 6:58 at 5v5 together this season.

Where does Bednar come into play here?

Back to my old axe to grind with Bednar, obviously. Take the timeout, man. Take a timeout, let Toews rest, and get to overtime. You’ll start overtime with Makar anyway, so there isn’t much threat of overextending Toews there. The timeout is the safe play, and it sure didn’t make much of a difference in the “break glass in case of emergency” situation that played out after the disaster that led to the Avs suddenly trailing.

I’ve always struggled with the very conservative use of timeouts from Bednar, but this one felt like a good time to use it and now in my backseat coaching role, it feels very obvious. Put your team in the best position to get that extra point.

Jack Johnson

This was already true before his role in the game-winning Nashville goal, but Johnson was really rough tonight. He got annihilated at 5v5 tonight as the Preds racked up 10 scoring chances with Johnson on the ice while only conceding one. High-danger chances were 4-0 for Nashville and shot attempts were 19-6.

For a third-pairing defenseman whose upside is “he won’t hurt you” and who provides very few offensive contributions, that’s a pretty tough game. His normal games this season have been fine with him getting pucks out of his own zone and occasionally laying a big hit. Okay.

Tonight, he was an active detriment and he provided no resistance whatsoever on the game-winning goal. It would have been nice to see him do something differently, but I’ll admit that’s easy for me to say sitting here knowing the outcome of what he actually did.

Anyway, this wasn’t a great night for Johnson (his partner, Caleb Jones, was better away from Johnson in very limited shifts but certainly was no great shakes himself).

The fourth line

It hasn’t happened often this year, but the Avalanche fourth line got beaten up pretty badly. As a trio at 5v5, they played 5:27 and those minutes did not go well. Not well at all. Nashville had the advantages in shot attempts 10-2, shots on goal 4-1, scoring chances 6-1, and high-danger chances 2-0.

I’m not saying that line needs to have the kind of offensive contributions of previous games (and Cogliano obviously still managed that with the shorthanded goal to open the scoring), but they can’t be this bad. This trio needs a stronger effort on Wednesday against Vancouver.

Unsung Hero

Nathan MacKinnon

I think we’re sliding into the territory of expecting something almost superhuman from MacKinnon. He managed two more assists tonight and while the shot metrics weren’t incredible (close to even across the board), he still finished the game with seven shots on goal and three hits. It’s pretty hard to say he isn’t having an impact on the game.

There are individual things from him that I think we all want to see be a little better, but when the guy has the puck on his stick nearly every shift, it’s impossible for him to avoid making some mistakes along the way, especially at the pace he plays.

I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think where I have been left wanting with MacKinnon’s play is the shift-to-shift dominance has not been there this season. He’s currently tied with Leon Draisaitl and Sidney Crosby, among others, in scoring this season so there isn’t some major statistical drop-off, but the eyes tell the story of a player who is still searching for the refinement in his game.

Tonight was a bit of the same overall as there were good and bad moments along the way and he puts up two points and you still find yourself getting to the end asking, “Where was Nathan MacKinnon?”


A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @returnofaj

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