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"I knew it wasn’t going to look anything close to what we’d normally have once those guys went out.” Jared Bednar's lineup changes lead to Avs win
The Avs returned home for the longest homestand of the season yet. They’ll get five games at home and started with a bit of a redemptive game against Anaheim tonight.
After losing 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday, the Avs took the series tonight with a 3-2 win.
In a refreshing change, Jared Bednar livened up the lineup with several changes due to some key absences.
Val Nichushkin was under the weather and unavailable tonight, Andrew Cogliano was out due to a lower-body injury, and Cale Makar skated this morning but remained out of the lineup as well.
As a result, Oskar Olausson received a call up from the Colorado Eagles and skated in his second-ever NHL game. Sam Malinski remained in the lineup.
After fielding a question about Ryan Johansen and Ross Coltons’ utilization this morning, Bednar shook things up all over the lineup.
“There’s nothing saying that Ryan Johansen needs more ice time than Ross Colton,” he said. “If Ross Colton’s played well and doing the job that he’s doing, then he’s earning more ice.”
Kurtis MacDermid joined the fourth line for his sixth game of the season.
Less than two minutes into the contest, Josh Manson poked the puck away from Leo Carlsson in the defensive zone. It was a great defensive play.
Nathan MacKinnon quickly retrieved it and tagged up MacDermid to meet him in the neutral zone.
MacKinnon skated the puck in and faced pressure along the wall, so he opted to pass back to MacDermid coming in through the left circle.
MacDermid kicked the puck to his stick and wristed the puck over John Gibson’s glove, far-side for his second goal of the season.
Immediate results from the Bednar experiment invigorated the team.
At 13:18, Colorado received their first powerplay opportunity. Without Makar and Nichushkin, Ross Colton was elevated to the top unit.
Mikko Rantanen had a couple looks and the unit created chances despite being unable to convert.
The first period had some growing pains as a result of all the changes too, and the players were still adjusting to the new personnel.
The Ducks controlled the possession and five-on-five and led the shots battle 12-9.
Alexandar Georgiev was solid in net and the team defense came up with important blocks.
The second period was a little more cohesive for the Avs.
Under the ten-minute mark, Byram skated through the offensive zone and Max Jones checked him hard. Byram fell to his knees and Logan O’Connor skated in to confront Jones and sent him into the boards.
“I didn’t really see the hit,” O’Connor said after. “I heard it and saw where [Byram] was. Obviously the history [Byram] has, I think regardless of if it’s clean or dirty, you want to step in there and make a presence and let you guys know that you can’t hit some of our top players like that, especially him.”
O’Connor was issued a two-minute minor for roughing, and he wasn’t happy about it. The officials reviewed it to see if it should be five instead and landed on just a minor.
Both Jones and Byram left the game with upper-body injuries. Byram skated two more shifts following the collision and Jones did not skate any.
Bednar confirmed in the postgame that it is not head related.
The kill rallied around him and snuffed out Anaheim’s attempts on the man-advantage. The Ducks didn’t manage a single shot on net.
In the final minutes of the second, the Avs pushed ahead.
Adam Henrique meant to clear the puck out of his end and Manson snatched it out of the air with his glove and fired the puck on net from the blueline.
Jonathan Drouin was there to catch the rebound and pass the puck across the crease to MacKinnon in one fell swoop through two Ducks skaters.
MacKinnon’s one-timer beat Gibson clear on the other side of the net.
It was another great read from Manson to make it possible, and Drouin’s slick passing set MacKinnon up perfectly.
Six minutes into the third period, that blended top line was at it again.
MacKinnon rimmed the puck around the glass for Drouin on the left side. Drouin knew MacKinnon would skate behind the goal line if he angled the puck there, and MacKinnon was able to scoop it up and rip a spin-around, backhand shot off.
Pesky O’Connor was in the blue paint, careful as not to obstruct Gibson, but just annoyingly enough to bang the rebound in. It was O’Connor’s fourth goal of the season. Nathan MacKinnon earned his 500th career assist on the play.
“It’s big,” Bednar said of the accomplishment. “In a game like this, when there’s new players coming in every year and everyone has these expectations for him, whenever you can live up to expectations or exceed expectations, it’s pretty phenomenal. I think he’s done that.”
O’Connor’s promotion to the top line with Drouin and MacKinnon was a good fit.
“[MacKinnon] plays a bit of a different game in regards to speed. It feels like everything is in fast forward a little bit. But I feel as though my skating can help with that and … help him make plays down there. At the end of the day, my job is to get them the puck.”
Bednar corroborated the puck retrieval skills too.
“We tried to put some pairs together (of) offensive guys (and) I tried to put a worker that could establish a forecheck and come up with some pucks as their third guy.”
At 10:13, Radko Gudas took a tripping penalty and the Avs went to work on the powerplay.
Rantanen carried the puck through the neutral zone and Brett Leason made the initial poke check to work the puck off his stick. He almost retrieved it back, but Sam Carrick came in to collect it and skated it in on the breakaway. He wristed it over Georgiev’s glove.
A few minutes later, Fredrik Olofsson was whistled for tripping Leo Carlsson. Kurtis MacDermid had a problem with this and roughed up Carlsson after the fact.
MacDermid and Olofsson went to the box and the Avs had to defend on a five-on-three.
Almost a minute in, Carlsson had his revenge. The Ducks cycled the puck on the powerplay. Troy Terry fed Carlsson whose one-timer whipped around the boards. Cam Fowler reset and passed to Terry. The completed a similar play and Terry’s cross-slot pass found Carlsson again. This time Carlsson wristed it backdoor and in.
Now a one-goal game, the Avs received a bit of luck. The Ducks were called for too many men on the ice shortly after, and the Avs had the man-advantage.
With that added boost, they kept the Ducks at bay and secured the victory.
Georgiev’s strong play in net kept them safe and contributions from the newly formed top line were key.
Georgiev finished with 31 saves on 33 shots, including eleven of twelve saves on medium-to-high danger chances.
MacKinnon’s three-point night was more like what we’ve grown accustomed to and he unlocked a career milestone in the process.
“We still let them back in the game a little bit there, but at the end of the day, we were still able to close it out,” O’Connor said. “[Georgiev] made the saves when we needed him to. All the lines were really contributing in different ways, coming wave after wave, the forecheck was good. We still have to focus on closing games out a little bit – not allowing teams to breathe and continue to suffocate them in the right end of the ice.”
For the Avs to pull out the win with such a blended lineup is a nice accomplishment.
“There’s some things that I liked and some of them weren’t really surprises to me,” Bednar said in his evaluation of all the different looks. “You never know until you try and you don’t want to be afraid as a coach to try new things. But, you also want to be able to stick with things that are working and looking good. It gives the players time to gel and try and go from good to great. When you get in situations like tonight, it’s an ideal opportunity for a coach to be able to mix things up and see what you like.
We know that we have a really good third line, for example, with Wood, Colton, and O’Connor, and we’ll go back to that. We will. But to see them with other players and see how they can complement one another and fit in different roles – that’s what part of the regular season is for.”
Bednar was encouraged that Makar would be available soon and Nichushkin’s illness almost made him an option tonight, so reinforcements are on the way.
The Avs are back in Ball Arena tomorrow for practice and return again on Thursday for their matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. Division points and home ice advantage acclaim are on the line.