Good evening folks! Been a minute since I’ve written one of these, and I wanted to spice it up a bit versus what I normally do for my game stories. So tonight, I want to focus on one part, or player, of this Colorado Avalanche team that I think is most under the microscope on a nightly basis. 

Alex Newhook is in his second year, and the Avalanche have high expectations for him. The hope was that after a successful, yet sheltered rookie season, in addition to the experience he gained by going on a run to the Stanley Cup, that he would be able to take a significant step forward and fill the void left on the second line left by the departure of Nazem Kadri.

Heading into tonight’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues, it is safe to say that hasn’t happened for Newhook.

“I’m seeing steps forward, then I’m seeing them level out,” Head coach Jared Bednar said of Newhook after the team’s morning skate. “The two best games… that probably he has played are the two games against Columbus. He’s come home now and been pretty quiet.”

I see the potential for Newhook as a 2C, I really do, but Jared Bednar is right. For every step forward we see him take, it seems like he just plateaus and goes quiet for a week. 

So I wanted to focus in on him tonight. To see what type of game he brought against a team that always makes the Avs work, and usually gives very little space.

My attention was really on how effective is he being away from the puck, and how much he does to get himself in dangerous spots on the ice when on offense. If he’s doing those things well, you have to trust that the production will follow. If he isn’t finding ways to impact the game aside from goals and assists, we could be in some trouble.

I liked his start. Didn’t love it, but I liked it. He was a positive Corsi player at 5v5 (7 CF, 5 CA), he was engaged, and I noticed two great defensive plays from him in particular.

One of which was a stellar backcheck with 30 seconds left in the opening frame. I’m not necessarily going to say it “saved a goal”, but it absolutely took away what would have been a Grade A scoring chance for the Blues. 

That is the exact type of stuff that I personally love to see from Newhook. Players like him can often struggle when making the jump to the NHL, simply because they no longer have the ability to out-skill everyone on the ice. They have to try and find a way to influence the game when they aren’t scoring, and typically the easiest way to do that is by making strong plays in the defensive zone. 

The first period was relatively low-event as a whole, so I really did feel good about Newhook’s play in the early going. For a guy who you know is feeling the pressure, it was a solid start. 

Unfortunately though, as the game moved into the middle frame, Alex Newhook struggled to maintain the success he had early on, and it showed in his deployment. 

Just three shifts, less than four minutes of ice time for the 21-year-old center, and to give some perspective, one of those shifts was in excess of two minutes. That two-minute shift was thanks in large part to his line getting pinned in their own zone and couldn’t get the puck out.

Now, he had another great backcheck to break up a sure breakaway, and that was a great use of his speed and strength, but that is literally the moment that I remember him having ANY kind of impact (good or bad) on the play in the second period. Which says something because… I’m literally isolating my focus on him for his shifts.

 

I talked to Logan O’Connor this morning, and he said something that I found really interesting. I told him that Jared Bednar had recently mentioned to me that when young players join the team for the first time, he will always tell guys to watch O’Connor and the way he works every day, every game, every shift.

Bednar said that he tells players that if they put in the work the way that O’Connor does, eventually their skill and ability will be able to take over and good things will happen. 

Inconsistent effort is easily one of the hardest things to get a young player to develop in his game, and it’s often what keeps guys from sticking in the NHL. 

“I’m not the most skilled player, that’s pretty evident out there,” O’Connor said, “but I rely on my work ethic consistently, and I think that’s gotten me to this point in my career… I think a big thing is, if you don’t have your ‘A’ game, you sort of have to bring your ‘B’ game. That’s something I’ve really tried to rely on in the pros. You can’t resort to your ‘D’ game and be invisible out there. You have got to make yourself visible however you can, small details, blocking shots, making hits, maybe just roughing it up with guys after the whistle or whatnot. If you don’t have your ‘A’ game you have to bring something else.”

I thought this was so appropriate for Newhook tonight, especially as the game went on. 

Newhook’s confidence seems to be at a real low right now, you can see it in his body language. Every time he lost a puck battle, missed a pass, missed a shot, his shoulders slumped. He resorted to his ‘D’ game and became less and less visible. 

While Newhook had a couple of good defensive plays early, he didn’t do enough in terms of the small details to help his team win as the night went on. Which is a real bummer on a night like tonight, where the Avs lose 3-2 and had an opportunity to tie the game with a 57-second 6-on-3 to end regulation. A 6-on-3 that Newhook was actually on the ice for. 

“Just not playing up to the standard I set for him,” Bednar said after the game. “He’ll produce if he gets his game in order. Too many turnovers tonight, not skating and attacking… you’re not going to create offense in this league if you’re not skating.”

By NO MEANS am I blaming this game on Alex Newhook. Like… not even close. I just thought it would be interesting to give some extra attention to a guy that deserves some extra attention right now, and if we’re being brutally honest… tonight ended up being a great example of why the Avs need Newhook to take the next step so badly. 

The team needs its depth, and its young players to start stepping up on a regular basis. Newhook currently falls into both of those categories. They need him.

It was a disappointing loss to end the three-game homestead, but I don’t think you can be overall too disappointed with the team effort.

Observations:

  • The goalies showed out early in this one. The first half of the game felt low-event purely because the goaltenders were just swallowing everything up. 
  • Now having said that, I really didn’t much like either of the first two goals that the Blues scored. The first one actually hit the post and fell back into the crease. Georgiev thought it went in, a nearby Nathan MacKinnon thought it went in, even the official thought it went in. So everybody stopped playing, and the puck eventually ended up (slowly) bouncing off of Georgiev’s foot and in. A frustrating replay to watch for sure. 
  • The top players that are healthy continue to really shine for the Avalanche. With Rantanen and Makar both having multi-point nights, and MacKinnon and Lehkonen hitting the scoresheet as well. When you have the number of injuries that the Avalanche have, you need your best players to be your best players, and they have been. Both Rantanen (3rd) and MacKinnon (5th) continue to be among the league leaders in scoring, not just leading the Avalanche.
  • The Avs had an extended 5-on-3, then a 6-on-3 to end the game, and in my opinion they overpassed it. Bednar disagreed after the game saying he thought they took their shots and unfortunately those shots just didn’t go in. 
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