The Colorado Avalanche headed to the final stop of their road trip in Detroit for an afternoon of hockey. After securing the win over the Ottawa Senators, they looked to stay perfect. Colorado was third in the Central with 84 points and games in hand on both Minnesota and Dallas above them.
A rested Alexandar Georgiev would get the start in net, and former Detroit Red Wing, Darren Helm, would not play in his homecoming game despite ramping up in practice as a full participant.
At 14:59, Colorado opened up the scoring. The Avs entered the zone with speed and made a complete effort to cycle the puck up high: Denis Malgin, Cale Makar, and J.T. Compher all worked to move the puck. J.T. Compher fed Devon Toews at the blueline and he fired a shot through traffic past Ville Husso.
A minute later, Detroit responded with a good burst of their own chances, but Georgiev made the saves after a Filip Zadina wrist shot and Olli Maata’s attempt at the rebound.
The Red Wings wouldn’t go quietly into the day. Bo Byram tried to control the puck in the neutral zone near the defensive blueline and had it worked away from him. They dumped it in and Colorado attempted the clear, but it rimmed around to Pius Suter who pinged it back to himself using Dylan Larkin. Pius Suter sent a shot from the right circle past Georgiev.
A couple of minutes later, Lars Eller took a slashing penalty and Colorado went on the first penalty kill of the game. It was good all things considered: Val Nichushkin created a giveaway from Alex Chiasson to start. Cale Makar and Andrew Cogliano put themselves in shooting lanes to block shots – Cogliano was left smarting a bit after his. Detroit did establish time in Colorado’s end though with three shots on net and four additional attempts blocked or missed.
It may have been some of the most allowed in a good while.
After its end, the Avs built a little momentum off of it and Lars Eller and Nathan MacKinnon generated great chances on net. Still, there was great a disparity in the shot differential and zone time past the halfway point.
With five minutes remaining, Mikko Rantanen took an interference penalty and the Avs went back on the kill. They looked much more comfortable locking this one down and held the Red Wings to just one shot on net with a couple of attempts of their own.
The period came to a close and the Avs were trailing the shots battle 16-6 and the high-danger chances at 6-1 in favor of Detroit. It wasn’t a bad period, it was tied after all, but the Red Wings had the clear advantage.
Seven minutes in, Cale Makar sent a stretch pass to a waiting Denis Malgin in the neutral zone. Malgin smartly turnstiled the puck to Nathan MacKinnon streaking up ice to collect it. With a burst of speed, he snapped it past Ville Husso.
Nathan MacKinnon continued on his path to a 100-point season. With 85 points heading into the afternoon, he would add an 86th. It was his 30th goal of the season and his fifth season doing it. MacKinnon has stepped into his playmaking abilities, but the goal-scoring is as present as ever.
At 12:00 into the period, Colorado earned its first powerplay opportunity. It wasn’t their best showing. They generated one shot on net but allowed two against.
With 4:11 remaining, an absolutely chaotic sequence stopped play and penalties were assessed. Mikko Rantanen checked Mo Seider and their contact was awkward. Rantanen upended Seider and he fell backward onto the ice. Incidentally, Rodrigues was skating in and bopped Seider on the head on accident. It led to a kerfuffle and Rantanen and Jake Walman went off for a holding and roughing respectively. Walman got handsy with Rodrigues there.
What started as a 4-on-4 became a 4-on-3 after Robert Haag tripped Alex Newhook. With the man advantage, J.T. Compher regained possession of a wild MacKinnon shot and MacKinnon cycled to Makar in the slot. Makar set Bo Byram up at the right circle and Byram one-timed it in. With his assist on the play, MacKinnon was now at 87 points in his quest for 100.
Now with a 3-1 lead, Colorado did an excellent job to close in on Detroit’s momentum from the first. The Avs outshot Detroit 12-8, gained the possession advantage, and held Detroit to zero high-danger chances.
On their third kill of the game early into the third, Georgiev came up with another big stop on Alex Chiasson’s snap shot.
With thirty seconds left, Jack Johnson made a play at the blueline to deny Detroit’s entry and Lars Eller took off with the puck on the rush. He tripped on impact but managed to make the pass to Val Nichushkin coming in behind him. Nichushkin rifled off a wrist shot and Eller skated in to knock the rebound home. This goal was, without a doubt, good.
With 14:50 remaining, Jack Johnson yet again helped Colorado to exit cleanly. He passed to Nathan MacKinnon who helped to create a tic-tac-toe play. MacKinnon passed to Rodrigues coming down the right circle, and Rodrigues fed Rantanen just left of the crease all alone. Rantanen tapped it in to give the Avs a 5-1 lead. It was MacKinnon’s 88th point.
Ville Husso was pulled from the net and Magnus Hellberg came in as relief.
The Avs persisted in their dominant effort. Reasonably, Detroit has the shot advantage in this frame in an attempt to climb back into the game. Colorado shut it down and won 5-1 on a perfect road trip.
Defensive contributions: Devon Toews scored his first goal in 16 games. He last scored on Feburary 11th against the Florida Panthers on the road. Even outside of goals, his pace this season is a bit slower than last year’s. He finished the 2022 season with 13 goals and 44 assists. Now, with five goals and 32 assists, he’s projected to hit closer to the 44-point mark compared to last year’s 57.
The slowed production isn’t a concern, it’s actually an expected outcome given the storyline of this season. Makar’s pace following today is comparable to last season (1.11 PPG last year vs. 1.109 PPG this year so far).
In today’s contest, Cale Makar registered an assist on three of five goals scored. Toews led the team in shots on net. Both, as usual, led the team in ice time.
The role the Toews-Makar pairing has played this year outside of production cannot be overstated. So much more has been asked of them in all three zones and in all situations, to excel everywhere and remain productive despite the injuries and struggles of this year is a huge accomplishment.
The two wear many hats and have stepped into their roles from last year even more. On the powerplay, which is seeing steady improvement, both have had chances to play on the top unit though when healthy, it’s Cale Makar’s blueline to run. Still, Toews is an important puck mover on the second unit.
No one has spent more time shorthanded than Devon Toews. He’s fourth in the league overall for his usage on the penalty kill. His reputation as a reliable defender has been credited with working well alongside Cale Makar’s natural offensive instincts. The two had made each other better in both ends. His stickwork alone has saved Colorado from many chances.
Before today’s game, he clocked 213:32 in time on ice. Makar was just behind him at 150:30. They were an important reason Colorado’s penalty kill remained perfect through three kills.
Not absent in this conversation are the contributions of Bo Byram. With his goal tonight, the threat of his one-timer was on full display. Byram has exceeded his production from last year even with both seasons marred by injury. It’s been a refreshing sight to watch Byram ascend to an even more confident player. Like Toews and Makar, he’s involved in all situations making himself an important asset to their defensive group, and his return from injury has had an observable stabilizing impact.
“Wouldn’t go quietly into the day” is good.