After the Colorado Avalanche absolutely stole one from the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday, we, mentioned on the podcast that all the Avs needed to do right now was go .500 on the road.
Given all of the injuries to key players, the best and easiest way for the Avs to keep their head above water is to continue to stay competitive on the road. This team still plays with enough structure and has the high-end talent to probably still be the favorites at home in most scenarios, but if they can continue to accrue wins away from Ball Arena, it will really set them up nicely for when they get some of those injured players back.
Colorado’s current three-game road trip began with the theft of two points two nights ago in Carolina and it put them in a situation where a win against the Washington Capitals would make this trip an instant success regardless of what happens when the team makes its final stop in Dallas on Monday.
Washington D.C. has not been kind to the Avalanche in recent years, and the Avs were going to have to go through former-Av Darcy Kuemper. You knew that Kuemper was going to be motivated to prove to his old club that they made the wrong decision by letting him go in free agency. I mentioned in the pregame show that there was a good chance we saw a motivated Alexandar Georgiev as well as he looking to show the Avalanche top brass that they made the RIGHT call by taking a chance on him instead of bringing back Kuemper for another year.
The game started relatively slowly. A quick chance here, a nice look there. The Capitals definitely carried the play, but it wasn’t as lopsided as the shots on goal would indicate about halfway through the period (Washington ran it up to 14-3 at one point).
With less than two minutes reaming in the opening frame, and the Avs starting to apply some real pressure, they were able to draw two tripping penalties within just seconds of each other, sending them to a 5-on-3 for the remainder of the first period.
The last time the Avs had a 5-on-3, it was last week in the final 1:46 against the St. Louis Blues… and it was really just a lot of shooting the puck wide of the net.
This time, however, they got the looks they wanted and were just struggling to get the puck through for the first 30 seconds or so.
The great thing about having the type of elite skill that the Avalanche do, they only need one play to change the game, and that’s exactly what happened.
A quick cross-ice pass from MacKinnon to Makar, and the puck is in the back of the net.
Just like that, a period of hockey that you would have been glad to just survive turns into a success and a one-goal lead.
That goal seemed to give the Avs a nice jolt of life. From the moment they stepped on the ice coming out of the locker room, they looked like a different team versus what we had seen for four straight periods.
Their entire top nine was skating, and they had really seemed to find their identity again. Just as the Avalanche started tilting the ice ever-so-slightly in their favor, another one of their superstars made a ridiculous play to stretch the team’s lead to two.
Nathan MacKinnon walked the puck off the wall, put a nice head fake on old friend Nic Aubé-Kubel (and almost broke his ankles cleanly in half), then went outside-inside and chipped the puck right by Kuemper’s ear and into the back of the net.
It was an electric play, it gave the group an even bigger lift, and you could see that Georgiev was really starting to settle in.
I mentioned a minute ago that it really felt like the Avalanche were playing to their identity again tonight, and we saw why that style of play was so effective and so dominant in the postseason last year.
All the way down to the Cogliano-Compher-O’Connor line, the Avs were making life hell for the Capitals on all 200’ of the ice. Hounding pucks on the forecheck, sticks in every lane, finishing their hits, pucks to the net on offense. As they began stretching out the score, the Avalanche really began to make this game feel less and less competitive.
It’s a theme we’ve seen from them going back to last year. Because they skate teams to death, and they make things really difficult both with and without the puck, they can often just wear teams down, and really just skate them out of the game. Teams don’t have enough left in the tank to make a late-game push in order to come back.
Think back to that Cup-clinching win in Tampa Bay, despite being the team with the one-goal lead, it was the Avs who were pushing the play as the clock was ticking down.
The third period got underway, and the Avs just really neutralized any prominent threats the Caps made. Just over halfway through the period, Colorado put a stranglehold on the game when Jacob MacDonald fired a puck from the circle and it bounced off of Cogliano’s leg and into the net.
That goal completely took the air out of the Capitals’ sails. You could see the shoulders slump, and the energy just died for the home team.
Both groups traded some so-so chances before Artturi Lehkonen punched home a pass from Mikko Rantanen (or, according to the NHL, Alex Ovechkin) and put the game away for good.
It finished as a 4-0 win for the Avs, and Alexandar Georgiev’s first shutout of the season.
Georgiev was great early on and helped his team stay in it long enough to be able to push the momentum back in their direction. He has no doubt been a huge bright spot early on for this banged-up Avalanche team, and Georgiev shined brightly tonight.
His calm, cool demeanor has been a major key to his success in the last month, and I think has played a big role in the team being able to string some wins together despite running a full line (and then some) of AHL regulars.
The Avs wrap up a three-game trip on Monday against the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars before returning home just in time for American Thanksgiving.