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Avs-Sharks Game 37 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 1, 2024

Studs

The mental stuff

This game was setting up for one of those classic hockey games where one team is so thoroughly outplayed and somehow it was tied and a weird bounce or one good shift was going to lead to the Sharks sneaking out a 2-1 win and everyone was going to be mad.

Colorado hit four posts last night and had every opportunity to pack it in and say “That’s hockey sometimes” and fumble the two points. Instead, they kept grinding away at it and I think they deserve credit for that. Had they lost, we would be talking about how they couldn’t close or something, so it only seems fair to give a tip of the cap to them for working through it.

The final 20 minutes was a complete demolition. We all know the Sharks are bad and all, but my goodness the numbers from that third period are staggering. The Avs had advantages of 38-8 in shot attempts, 12-2 in shots on goal, 19-2 (!!) in scoring chances, and 6-1 in high-danger chances. They generated more expected goals for (1.54) than the Sharks did for the entire game (1.11).

So, uh, pretty dominant.

Nathan MacKinnon

That dominance was led by MacKinnon, who seemed to take his scoreless effort in St. Louis personally. He trucked Ty Emberson and then looked back to give him a truly hilarious staredown moment and his physicality was a factor all game.

He had some of those classic MacKinnon “passing to no one” moments but it’s hard to fault a guy too much when he probably should have had a multi-goal night but kept ringing the puck off the post. He was not struggling to generate scoring chances for himself but also his assist on Mikko Rantanen’s goal was awesome.

Sam Girard

It was Girard’s first game back since he left the team for personal reasons and if I’m being honest, even if he was terrible I would have had him as a Stud tonight because it took a lot of guts to walk away and focus on his personal demons, especially in such a public manner. He owned his truth and that is to be commended.

That said, Girard was awesome. His skating was on display from the jump when he attacked hard up the ice on his first shift and then led a breakout on his second shift. He could have easily had a point or two with a little better luck and he was instrumental in creating the game-winning goal.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Girard to play that well every night, but it did showcase the upside of a player whose steady presence along the blueline has been sorely missed.

Jack Johnson

This is 100% about the pass he makes to Val Nichushkin on the game-winning goal. Johnson is beloved by the coaching staff for his dependability. He keeps his game simple and stays within himself very well. He certainly isn’t perfect but on a game-to-game basis, he is who he is and that’s why he’s a lineup staple for this hockey club.

While the Avs were vibing in the third period, Johnson had some chances to jump into the play and get involved and he chose not to because the downside of being aggressive was potentially giving up an odd-man rush the other direction. You can respect that line of thinking.

All of this made his pass on the game-winning goal all the more unexpected and awesome. He gets the pass from MacKinnon and completely sells the shot. The Sharks defense collapsed, as they had been all night en route to 28 blocked shots, and it opened up Nichushkin on the backdoor. Johnson made a slick feed to him and he buried it. What a play from the veteran.

Duds

The quality of chances

The Avalanche completely dominated this game and I really didn’t feel like there was an Av who had a bad game, but there was one area that did stand out to me as disappointing.

That area is the high-danger chances. Colorado’s shot suppression has been among the league’s best once again this season and this game was no different. At even strength, the Sharks had just 29 shot attempts and 10 shots on goal. Of their 11 scoring chances, however, seven were high-danger. On the other side, the Avs only created nine of their own high-danger chances at even strength.

On one side, to be so dominant and still give up that many high-danger chances is disappointing. Going into the third period, the Avs were actually trailing 6-4 in that department. They weren’t creating enough of the good looks in part to their penchant for being a little too fancy with the puck and trying to create the perfect look. It’s been a problem for them all season.

Defensively, they did almost everything you could ask for except stop the big breakdowns. They should have gotten scored on at the end of the second period when Mikael Granlund inexplicably was left completely alone in front of the net. In a moment of karmic justice, he beat Alexandar Georgiev but hit the post.

I’m not sure why the Avalanche have been able to play within their structure for most of the game but then have ghastly breakdowns. It would be one thing if it was just a bad defense and you shrug because, hey, it’s a bad defense, but the Avs are one of the better defenses in the league. It isn’t even the volume of quality they allow, it’s that when they allow them, boy howdy are those high-danger chances good. This game was more of the same.

Unsung Hero

Alexandar Georgiev

I was surprised when Jared Bednar rolled the dice and put him in for this game because the schedule gets quite a bit more challenging coming up and this felt like an obvious opportunity to rest Georgiev. The other side of it is that Georgiev could use this game to keep building confidence after a damn fine showing in St. Louis.

Facing just 11 shots meant a pretty light workload but he stopped 10 of them. The one that gets by him isn’t my favorite but it’s also San Jose’s best player completely alone in the middle of the ice on a Sharks power play, so we’re back to what I mentioned above about the quality of chances allowed.

It stopped there, though, and Georgiev was rock solid the rest of the way. We’ve talked a lot this season about the unique challenge of a goaltender keeping himself in the game when the team in front of him isn’t allowing many shots on goal and Georgiev has struggled at times with that mental grind. He stayed in this one, however, and let the team in front of him do the job.

As I wrote after the Blues game, Georgiev was one save better than the other guy and that has largely been what the Avalanche have needed.

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