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Avs-Stars Game 39 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 5, 2024

Studs

Nathan MacKinnon

Oh, three more points you say? He’s now tied for the NHL lead in scoring? He has 21 points in his last nine games? He scored the game-winning goal in overtime after chipping the puck past Tyler Seguin and then looked off Scott Wedgewood long enough to sell a potential pass?

He’s still completely dominating games and even alongside his superstar teammates Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar he is on a totally different planet? He has backpacked the Avalanche to a tie for first place in the standings in the NHL?

If all of those are marked TRUE, you have the obvious guy for the Hart Trophy right now. What an epic run this is from him.

Jonathan Drouin

The other half of the Halifax Homies, Drouin is stuck in the gigantic shadow cast by MacKinnon and his storming of the NHL gates. Given the rocky career he’s had to date, I think he is just fine with succeeding in his own way without anyone around him asking the world of him.

Two more goals from Drouin tonight have him up to eight on the season and just outside of the pace needed for a 20-goal year. I’ve written about Drouin quite a bit recently and have talked about the variety of ways he’s finding success and tonight was another feather in that cap.

His first goal he goes to the net and finds a puck sitting in the crease. He taps it in and it gave the Avs a huge lift at the end of the second period. That’s a big momentum swing going into the third period down only 3-2. Then, right after Seguin had made it 4-2 and seemingly sealed the game for the Stars, Drouin had an insane tip-in goal that brought the game back to 4-3 and kept the Avalanche in it.

Those are both huge, game-changing plays and neither is the type of goal that Drouin was expected to score much of when he signed with the Avalanche. As long as he continues adding layers to his game, his importance to this team will continue to rise.

Devon Toews

Let’s start with the obvious. His play in overtime to keep Jason Robertson from attacking with a good scoring chance was fantastic defense. Then he wins the puck along the wall to MacKinnon and beats everyone else up the ice to create a 2-on-0 scoring chance. MacKinnon did the work at the end, but none of it is possible without the excellence from Toews.

Toews also had the assist on Drouin’s goal late in the second period when he fired a shot at the net that turned into a goal. Sometimes the easy play is the right play.

The play on Robertson was his big highlight from this game, but it wasn’t his only excellent defensive play in transition. He got back in time to disrupt multiple scoring chances for the Stars and was a thorn in their side all evening. The Stars created 15 (!!) high-danger chances at 5v5 but only three came against Toews. He was consistently excellent in his own zone, arguably the only Avalanche defenseman you can say that about (Josh Manson was solid, too).

Late-game strategy

When it doesn’t work, it’s easy to criticize so when Bednar does push the right buttons, I want to give some credit. He had Ryan Johansen on the ice in the extra attacker situation solely for faceoffs and once that element was removed (Johansen lost the last draw he took), he exited the game.

Instead of adding another defenseman, Bednar added Logan O’Connor to the mix. I’m just guessing here, but I assume it was LOC over Miles Wood because of his right-handed shot. LOC got the tip on Cale Makar’s point shot that led to Rantanen accidentally deflecting the puck off his foot and across the line (juuuust barely) for the game-tying goal.

Bednar rolled the dice with the personnel and it worked. You have to love it when a plan comes together.

Duds

That team defense

I mentioned the 15 high-danger chances allowed at 5v5, but they also gave up 29 scoring chances. In 48 minutes of 5v5 hockey, the Avalanche got outshot and out chanced by a wide margin. You don’t have to squint and see a team that deserved to lose this game in regulation.

Normally for the Avs, it’s the quality of the chances allowed more than the volume. Tonight was both, which is the worst combination. This was their season high in both scoring chances and high-danger chances allowed at 5v5. They found a way to win, which is absolutely to be commended, but we can’t sit here and pretend this was a quality game from the Avalanche. It wasn’t. They were opportunistic and blessed with a superstar at the peak of his powers right now.

They will want to get into the video session tomorrow and tighten the screws before a blistering-hot Florida team rolls into Denver on Saturday afternoon.

Valeri Nichushkin

Hot off a scintillating performance against the Islanders, Nichushkin reverted back to the Dallas version of the player that saw the organization pay money to send him away. He was badly beaten on two of the Dallas goals as he never picked up Joe Pavelski on the backdoor on the penalty kill, a unit he has struggled to consistently be effective on.

Then in the third period, he was slow to read Seguin on the backside of the play and got caught flat-footed on Seguin’s initial shot attempt, which allowed the Stars forward to beat Nichushkin to the rebound where he made it 4-2.

Nichushkin had strong moments on offense so it wasn’t a lost cause or anything, but the defensive zone is an area where his sterling reputation is well-earned. He did not live up to it tonight.

Ross Colton

Colton’s ghastly giveaway created a freebie tap-in goal for the first goal of the game and then he was called for a penalty. The game never improved much for him and the struggles of both him and Ryan Johansen meant Jared Bednar didn’t have someone to turn to when the Avs were trying to create their third period comeback.

This is a one-off for Colton versus a repeated pattern for Johansen, but to see it as bad as it was for Colton was frustrating. I would venture to say that was among his worst games of the year.

Unsung Hero

Miles Wood

Wood embraced his inner chaos monster in this game as his speed and physicality caused fits for the Stars the entire night. He had multiple odd-man rushes and scoring chances where he was in by himself. Amusingly, the point he did pick up was on a cross-ice pass that hit a Stars player, found MacKinnon, who accidentally scored off a Stars skate in front of the net.

When you consider all of the excellent chances that Wood was part of, you can’t help but shake your head when you see that was his only point of the night.

He also drew two penalties for good measure. This was the best version of Miles Wood, though you’d love to see him finish one of those rushes up the ice with a goal.

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