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"Definitely Wasn't Pretty": Avs hang on to beat Montreal

Jesse Montano Avatar
January 23, 2022

Earlier this week the Colorado Avalanche played back-to-back games in southern California to cap off a two-game road trip, and the word that was most often used to describe the way they played in those two games was “tired”. Those were the team’s sixth and seventh games within 11 days, including three sets of back-to-backs, so it was easy to see why they looked sluggish.

The Avalanche managed to win both of those games by multiple goals by playing within their system, and trusting that their process would lead to positive things, despite them not having their legs. So when they finally got a day off and returned home to welcome the NHL’s worst team in the Montreal Canadiens, you expected that they would come out flying and execute at the level we’ve become accustomed to in the last two-ish months.

Well, they definitely came out with more energy and they didn’t look slow by any means, but they just didn’t seem sharp as they holed their way to their 15th straight win at home, winning owe again in overtime 3-2. 

I should say, they didn’t look sharp collectively. There was one Av in particular that I thought looked absolutely dialed in from the opening puck drop. More on that in a moment. 

Tonight reminded me so much of Avs teams we’ve seen the last couple of seasons, as they’ve been on their ascent to one of the top teams in the league. Colorado looked like they knew the team they were playing was “bad” (I put that in quotes because no NHL team has truly bad hockey players. They’re all very good), and they were content with just out-skilling them.

Now, we’ve seen the Avalanche do that on many occasions in recent years, so it’s not like only bad things happen when they play like this. After all, they are an extremely skilled group. More often than not though, you end up with nights like this one. The Avs were absolutely creating chances, and you could even say they controlled the majority of the play, but it seemed like for every quality chance they created, they were giving one back the other way.

I never had an issue with how the Avs were playing in the offensive zone, they were moving the puck well, going to the net, getting pucks through, and their power play was CLICKING.

Let’s pause there for a moment, this piece has some negative vibes to it right now, and the game really wasn’t that bad.

Colorado went to the man advantage just over seven minutes into the game when Ben Chiarot got called for holding, and after a so-so look from the top unit, the Avs second PP group got a chance.

I mentioned in a piece earlier this week that Alex Newhook continues to flash elite-level puck skills and speed, and he made me look smart today. After a couple of back-and-forths between Sam Girard and Devon Toews, Newhook absolutely rifled a one-time snapshot from the bumper spot (the area in between the two face-off circles).

Newhook burst onto the AHL scene late last season, and a lot of his success was driven by his ability to score goals from exactly that spot. It’s kind of become his own little “Ovi Spot”. Obviously I’m not comparing those two players, I’m just saying Newhook clearly is very comfortable shooting from there and has found some sustained success at the pro level.

Colorado would go on to hang 23 shots on the Canadiens in the first period, but Newhook’s power-play tally would be the lone goal.

That score held up until the Avs got another opportunity on the man advantage just past the halfway mark of the game. 

Big Val Nichushkin returned to the lineup today after testing out of the NHL’s COVID protocol, and it seems like every time he has been out, his importance is magnified. Nichushkin has looked like that 10th overall pick the Dallas Stars thought they were getting back in 2013 all season, and tonight he continued that trend.

After another failed look from the Avs’ number one power play group, it was the second unit to the rescue again. Only this time, instead of it being a high-skill snipe, it was Big Val using his size to get position down low, and punching one home off another great feed from Girard. Toews also picked up his second assist of the night on the Nichushkin goal. 

At this point of the game, it looked like the Avs were gonna get away with just purely being more skilled than the Habs. They had a two-goal lead, and the player who I mentioned earlier that in my opinion was Colorado’s best player, was Darcy Kuemper. He made several stellar saves to bail his team out when they got over-zealous offensively and gave up bad chances against.

One thing I haven’t mentioned so far in this article is that Montreal was playing very well. The visitors were skating their asses off, and they were also getting exceptional play in net from Cayden Primeau.

Montreal was working really hard, and despite being a much less talented team, found a way to hang around. All they needed was a bounce to go their way, and they’d be right back in this one.

With just over a minute left in the second period, they would get one.

After a sloppy exchange at the offensive blue line, The Canadiens went the other way on what felt like their 20th odd-man wish of the game and just barely snuck one past Darcy Kuemper.

That goal gave the Canadiens life, and inversely, took some of the wind out of the Avs’ sails.

You could feel it in the building as the third period started. You just knew the Habs would tie this one up. 

It looked like the Avs had maybe gotten out of the woods. Early in the third, it appeared as though Nazem Kadri had extended the Avs’ lead to 3-1, but after a quick review, the play was ruled to have been offside prior to the goal, and the Canadiens stayed alive.

Just minutes later, a series of… weird calls lead to the Avalanche being shorthanded, they almost got through it, but with :14 remaining in Montreal’s second power play of the evening it was Nick Suzuki who was wide open on the backdoor to even things up.

So there it was, the goal everyone knew was coming, and suddenly it shifted from “just hold on” for the Avs to “now push back”. The remainder of the third was pretty blah, and the two teams traded non-threatening chances. The clock hit zeros and it was time for yet another overtime.

Remember how earlier I said how important Val Nichushkin has become for the Avalanche? Both teams got good looks in OT early, but it was the big Russian that set the game-winner in motion.

Jared Bednar described Val as “a beast” in overtime after the game, and I would say that’s a pretty accurate description. He generated multiple chances before forcing a turnover at the blue line, driving low, and eventually finding Gabe Landeskog in front to end it.

Look, everyone knows this hasn’t been a great stretch of play these last three or so games, but as Jared Bednar said after the game, you’d rather learn lessons and win, than have to learn them in a loss.

82 games is a long season, and there are going to be ups and downs. The Avs have played some fantastic hockey this season, right now it’s not quite to that standard, and that’s ok. It happens. This group isn’t satisfied with just squeaking by in games, they know it will eventually catch up with them if they don’t clean things up. I firmly believe they will, and from the sounds of it postgame, that group in the locker room believes it too.


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