There was a sequence in tonight’s game with just under six minutes remaining in the third period that felt like a pretty good summation of the night on the whole.
Nathan MacKinnon had made a nice play through the neutral zone to create space and maybe a scoring chance. As soon as he got into the offensive zone, he pulled up, looked around, and realized he was completely alone and had no help. The sequence turned into nothing.
That feels as solid a way to sum up Colorado’s 5-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets tonight. Colorado’s reliance on its elite top line and buzzsaw power play is a trick that isn’t going to work every night and tonight those elements weren’t clicking, with the added bonus of Alexandar Georgiev’s worst performance as an Av to date.
This isn’t, of course, to lay the loss entirely at Georgiev’s feet. He’s not the guy who failed to score a single goal on 40 shots. He was, however, a goalie who has stopped the kinds of shots that got by him early in the game as the Jets built their lead.
I detailed in my last game recap the exceptional start Georgiev was off to. He hadn’t had a poor game since maybe the meltdown against the Islanders, and even in that game he finished with a save percentage above .900.
This just wasn’t his game, and it certainly wasn’t Colorado’s A-game. This was their worst performance across the board as an entire team. No brilliance from MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, or Cale Makar could save the Avs from themselves tonight.
Despite having a steady shot advantage throughout the game, the Avs didn’t get a puck past Connor Hellebuyck while the Jets scored five on 24 shots against Georgiev.
Where Colorado’s best players turned in their worst performance to date, Winnipeg’s drove the bus.
Blake Wheeler, stripped of his captaincy this season following a year-long locker room drama that sunk last year’s talented-but-flawed team, recorded a hat trick. The goals got easier as Wheeler went, starting with a snap shot that simply beat Georgiev and continuing with a backdoor tap-in from a cross-ice feed via Cole Perfetti and finishing with a puck that was intended as a pass but got put by Makar into his own net.
Even Wheeler had a big laugh at the freebie the universe had given him. As Rudo loves to say on the pod (and off the pod, trust me), “sometimes lucky.”
While that was happening at end, Hellebuyck was re-affirming his place among the league’s elite goaltenders in what should have been an intriguing head-to-head battle between two of the goaltenders who were off to the best starts this year.
Hellebuyck responded to the moment, Georgiev did not.
It’s only one night, of course, and you knew there was a letdown game coming from Georgiev at some point. Really, you knew there was a letdown game coming from the Avs eventually. They had won a couple of games that were stolen by goaltenders and good fortune has really been on their side outside of their awful injury luck.
Their results have simply outpaced their on-ice play for much of the last few weeks, but that’s the luxury of elite talent. Tonight, Colorado’s stars didn’t have it in them to pull two points and they got absolutely no help.
What would be two-thirds of their fourth line in a healthy alignment is now making up two-thirds of their set-and-forget second line, while the bottom two lines tonight featured exactly one player (Alex Newhook) who was part of the team’s plan at the NHL level this year. The other five are guys who began in the AHL or had their original team try to send them there (Dryden Hunt).
That’s a lot to overcome on a nightly basis. Colorado has done more than an admirable job of keeping up with Dallas and Winnipeg in the Central Division race, but the team we saw tonight is, frankly, a lot more of the team I’ve been expecting to see as the injuries continued to pile up.
Unfortunately for Colorado, this is their reality right now. The group tonight is largely the one that is going to have to make things work. Maybe Martin Kaut joins the team in a day or two after he gets over the illness that kept him from the group, but he alone isn’t going to save the day.
All the other injured players who are realistic possibilities to return “soon” still likely won’t be available until the end of this road trip. They have three more games to go, all out east, but if they want to continue to stay competitive while they wait for healthy reinforcements, they’re going to have to play a hell of a lot better than they did tonight.
Normally, I’m the personality type that likes to pull the positives from every game, but the only true positive I can see from this game is that it’s over.
- Jean-Luc Foudy has been a great story for the Colorado Eagles so far and his call-up made sense. This was a disaster of an NHL debut, though. From his offensive zone penalty in the first period (which resulted in Wheeler’s first goal) to a myriad of soft plays with the puck and in the defensive zone, this is not the experience Foudy has dreamed about his entire life. If he gets a second game, there’s nowhere for him to go but up. He’s a great young kid so I’m hoping he does get that shot at redemption, but if he doesn’t, it’ll be easy to understand the team’s reasoning.
- This might be the first Avalanche game since he joined the team at least year’s trade deadline where I thought Artturi Lehkonen was their most dangerous player on the ice. He’s had plenty of good games, of course, and his nine-game point streak ended tonight, but he was one of the only players I really thought was actually dangerous. He had three shots on goal and all were around the goal. He was good.
- Could be the worst game I’ve ever seen from Cale Makar. He was just a mess all over the ice, culminating with the entire sequence that led to Wheeler’s third goal. Makar turned it over, got back, covered nobody, and accidentally put the puck into his own net. A master class of “this is just not my day.” Personally, I don’t mind the occasional reminder that Makar is, in fact, human. Good luck with his bounce back, Sabres.