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Avs-Senators Game 45 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 17, 2024

Studs

Sam Malinski

Here’s where I am with Malinski. Tonight was a good showcase of where his game as an NHL player is at this moment. Offensively, he’s dangerous with the puck. He’s aggressive, he attacks up the ice either with his feet or via pass (his assist on Polin’s goal is exactly this), and he has shown a quality shot. Technically, he scored two goals tonight even if one was pulled off the board but he finished later at the end of a power play to give the Avalanche a lead.

Defensively, however, I thought Malinski showed a lot of holes. He wasn’t reading the play very well and was a witness to some great Ottawa offense. The Sens had a ton of scoring chances with him out there and I think it’s clear that he has a lot of room for growth in that area. Of course, none of Malinski’s teammates along the blue line were particularly great in their own end in this one, so it’s all relative.

Still, if you’re going to have struggles in the defensive zone, production on offense makes up for it. Malinski ended up with two points, including the game-winning goal, and that’s a damn fine night.

Sam Girard

Like Malinski, Ottawa didn’t struggle to generate chances against Girard but also like Malinski, Girard’s production helped make up for it. Goals are the point of the game and Girard was a primary creator of three of them.

Two were breakouts from the defensive zone and allowed Avalanche forwards to chew up the Sens in transition and the third was on Malinski’s game-winning goal from down low.

Three assists is a great night for a defenseman whose reputation as an offensive-defenseman isn’t always rooted in reality but the way he created tonight is what the fuss has always been about with his puck-moving abilities. It was especially nice to see his vision and aggression attacking with the puck pay off.

Jason Polin

Awesome for Polin to get his first NHL goal (and point!) but this was the kind of performance that I think should be pushing him to get even more looks when Artturi Lehkonen returns to the lineup.

Polin didn’t quite play eight minutes but he had two hits and two shots on goal, one of which obviously went in. That’s an efficient night for a fourth-line guy and I think he should be earning more trust from Jared Bednar. He keeps it simple and while he may not move as well as Joel Kiviranta, we saw a stark contrast between the two in puck skill in this game.

When on the two-on-one, Polin didn’t overthink his opportunity and pulled the trigger. He scored 30 goals for Western Michigan last season and his goal-scoring acumen was part of his profile when the Avs signed him in the spring. That, and his physicality.

We saw both things tonight and the fourth-line wing had a game he’ll never forget.

Winning in tough circumstances

Here’s the rub. The Avs were on the second half of a back-to-back, Ottawa was not. The Avs were playing their third game in four nights. The Sens had the last two days off and tonight was the second game of their current four-game homestand so they’ve been home for several days.

The Avs were playing Justus Annunen with Ivan Prosvetov backing him up, giving Alexandar Georgiev a true night off. Colorado had quite a disappointing night 24 hours earlier in Montreal while Ottawa watched it on TV.

The Sens opened the door for the Avs by playing their backup goaltender as well (because Joonas Korpisalo had a poor history against the Avalanche, whoops) and then Parker Kelly missed two empty nets on broken plays that should have resulted in Ottawa goals.

Ottawa had all the advantages coming in, Colorado caught all of the in-game breaks. That’s how sports go sometimes and a Sens team that has been nothing short of a significant disappointment this season unraveled once the Avs dared to push back when Ottawa took a 4-2 lead.

The Avs didn’t play close to their best game of the season but made it work. Two points is two points. They’re already in Boston sleeping it off and preparing for the Bruins for the second time in two weeks on Thursday night. Grinding out wins has become a staple of this year’s club.

Duds

Jonathan Drouin

It hasn’t happened often recently, but I thought Drouin was a real problem in the defensive zone. He wasn’t reading the play very well and was slow to pick up coverages. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as part of the video package tomorrow morning when the coaches review the film and stands out as needing some small corrective conversations.

Oh, there was also his offside negating a Malinski goal because he was having a lazy moment where he watched Malinski skate all the way through the neutral zone with the puck but didn’t bother getting back to the blueline in time and it cost them a goal.

“Lazy” was Drouin’s reputation coming into this year and he has done well to shed it during his Avalanche tenure but we saw a lot of the bad habits creep in tonight. It’s only one game so no reason to be too concerned, but he did catch my eye as having a tough go of it.

Ryan Johansen

I don’t know what to say about Johansen’s game that hasn’t been said already this season. He wasn’t any good tonight and finished the night with an incredible 7% expected goals for percentage tonight. It’s hard to do but somehow it was still well-earned. He defined Jared Bednar’s “passenger” profile. He did have the assist, which was nice. That helps.

Unsung Hero

Justus Annunen

Tough spot for Annunen to be in. He didn’t play a great game, but he ended up being just good enough. There’s plenty to dislike about the goals against but the Avs also gave up an abnormal about of scoring chances, high-danger chances, and backdoor tap-ins that the Sens just missed.

Annunen made stops after it got to 4-2, however, and finished with a .900 save percentage. It’s damning that this is a step forward for the team’s goaltending, but that’s where things are right now.

You have to be happy for Annunen to get the win, even if it didn’t pop off the ice the way you would have liked. I’m not sure his performance in this one will inspire too many more chances, but we’ll see.

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