Colorado’s third line

The combination of Miles Wood, Ross Colton, and Logan O’Connor has been nothing short of spectacular together. They are killing it. When the Avs were down and out in tonight’s game, that line was the one to give them life. They were playing well when the rest of the team wasn’t, so it seems appropriate they were the one to resuscitate Colorado’s hopes of erasing a 3-0 deficit in the game.

The play is a little lucky when Cale Makar moves the puck from behind the net into the neutral zone, but it was Wood’s speed that caused problems for the Stars. The collective speed of that line is the real key to what makes them a handful and Wood got behind the defense, drew a penalty, and still scored.

That goal gave the Avs a lift and then Colton iced the game with his empty-net goal at the end. It’s time to start looking at this third line as Colorado’s x-factor.

Cale Makar and Devon Toews

Colorado’s top pairing on defense has a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s most formidable duos and tonight reinforced for me why that is. Makar finished with three more assists and while Quinn Hughes is off to a blistering start in Vancouver, Makar is hot on his heels and has significantly better underlying numbers.

Makar added another 3 assists tonight. He got a little lucky with the one on Wood’s goal as he was trying to move the puck up the wall and it turned into a weird bouncing puck that eluded all sticks until Colton tracked it down. After that, though, Makar was just doing what he does, including the disruptive stick that led to the empty-net goal.

Toews is the quiet straw that stirs the Avalanche drink. It’s why the Avs prioritized keeping him before he got to drink from the chalice of free agency and tonight is another in a long night of games where he does his thing alongside Makar.

These two on the ice together produce some of the most casually dominant nights you’ll see in the NHL. Most shifts you don’t think a ton is happening and then you get to the end of the game, realize the other team rarely had the puck, and the Avs piled up scoring chances with them running the show from the back end. Tonight was one of those games.

Valeri Nichushkin

My goodness was the ex-player curse ever in effect tonight. Sure, Matt Duchene notched his obligatory point against the Avalanche, but did you see Nichushkin out there?

He was a freight train even when the Avs weren’t playing particularly well. His feet were moving and he was absolutely flying up and down the ice. This reminded me of the version of Nichushkin we saw in the Stanley Cup Final that Tampa Bay had to completely sell out defensively to try to slow down (and still struggled to do so).

The individual numbers were eye-popping. He had eight shot attempts, five shots on goal, six scoring chances and created four high-danger chances on his own. The rest of the Avalanche created 12 high-danger chances as a team. So, pretty good night for him.

Oh, and he also scored the game-tying goal in the third period when he went to the net and was the recipient of a ghastly clearing attempt by Mason Marchment and he banged it home. For my money, he was Colorado’s best forward of the night and finished with a goal, an assist, three hits, and five shots on goal. All the shot metrics were great, too. Huge night for him.

The switch flipped to the “on” position

Holy smokes is this a dominant third period team so far this season. I’m not sure what the overall numbers are in terms of process, but tonight was as dominant as they’ve been outside the San Jose game.

When people talk about the turtle, well, what Dallas did tonight doesn’t really qualify. The Stars completely collapsed under the weight of a relentless Colorado attack. The Avs had a 24-12 shot attempt advantage, which translated to 15-5 in shots on goal, and then poured it on in the quality department with 11-3 scoring chances and 9-1 (!!) in high-danger chances.

Beyond just the third period, however, there are some easy numbers to look to for a sign of how this game flipped on its head with the Wood goal. Before that goal, the Stars were leading the Avs 3-0 and outshooting them 20-16. After the Wood goal, the Avs outshot Dallas 22-8 and outscored them 6-0 in the final 33:27 of the game.

The win tied them for the league lead with seven comeback wins. That’ll do.


The start of the game

The Avs didn’t really play that poorly for the first ten minutes of the game, but a broken coverage that led to the Stars first goal made it 1-0 and felt like a harbinger of doom. For a while, it was. Colorado once again got down multiple goals and were not getting much from Alexandar Georgiev and the team in front of him was crumbling shift by shift after a decent start.

It’s frustrating to see a team this talented need to work their way into so many games. By my count, they’ve allowed the first goal in 11 of their 16 games this season. That makes life so much harder in the NHL, even if the Avalanche have shown an affinity for erasing deficits this season

Colorado’s second line

This line was nothing short of a mess and each had frustrating moments throughout. The Avs were playing pretty well when Johnathan Drouin took a needless penalty in the offensive zone. Jared Bednar rolled the dice with their best faceoff guy, Ryan Johansen, taking the opening faceoff on the penalty kill.

Johansen lost it cleanly, then broke down in coverage (along with Makar) as he left Joe Pavelski completely unmarked in front of the net. That’s multiple failures from Johansen there and it was Drouin’s penalty that put them in that position in the first place.

Tomas Tatar played but to little effect.

As a trio, they had a terrible go of it. They played 5:37 at 5v5 together and lost the shot attempt battle 8-3, the shots on goal battle 4-1, and allowed six scoring chances and three high-danger chances while managing to create…none.

The only redeeming quality tonight was when Drouin had been so bad on the power play when he turned over multiple pucks that Johansen replaced him on the top power play unit, won a faceoff cleanly, then had an awesome deflection goal to make it 3-2 and make everyone in Dallas very nervous for the third period. It was a pretty big moment in the game, but some of the bad moments before that were a direct result of these guys, too.

Colorado’s second pairing

We’ve seen a pretty solid start to the year from the Bowen Byram-Sam Girard pairing but tonight…was not one of those nights. Girard lost his coverage on the backdoor on the first Stars goal but there were multiple issues on the coverage (Johansen and Byram looked like they had a miscommunication on who to cover).

Girard took too long clearing the puck and allowed a Stars forecheck to get a stick on a clearing attempt and then didn’t do anything to take away Seguin’s stick on the rebound and Seguin’s second of the game was the third goal for Dallas.

After that, we saw the coaching staff show a willingness to break up the top two pairings as Byram played alongside Makar and Toews playing with Girard. Both players got better with their temporary new partners. Together, they had a tough night in the moments that led to goals. Their shot metrics weren’t actually terrible in totality, but the bad was really bad.

Unsung Hero

Alexandar Georgiev

Georgiev finished with another sub-.900 save percentage but I think he was actually decent tonight. The second goal that seemingly teleports through his body was a disappointing goal to give up, but he got stronger and stronger as the game went on.

He made several huge stops when the game was still 3-0 that didn’t allow the game to get away from the Avalanche, something that has happened too frequently already this year. Colorado’s comeback started in part with Georgiev slamming the door shut on the Stars extending their lead.

It’s not a great night for him overall, but he did enough to allow his team to climb back into it and then didn’t budge from there. Enough to win was good enough tonight.

The 5v3 penalty kill

One of the key moments of this game came when the Avalanche put themselves in a deep hole. Down 3-0 and then facing an extended 5v3 PK, Colorado survived. That kind of kill helps a team with no life find some and we saw that exact scenario play out tonight.

The Avs killed off both Stars power play chances without giving up very many great looks (there were a couple of scoring chances, but nothing amazing) and then scored their first goal of the game three minutes later. It looked initially like a chance for the Stars to put the nail in the coffin of this game and instead it turned into the springboard for the Avs to snatch two points away from the Stars.

That really put the special in special teams, you know?


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