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Just one more game. One more game and the Avs return home for a December filled with home games and a Monday off from team scheduled events.
When they looked at the schedule upfront, Los Angeles was no doubt the toughest competition to come out of this three game road trip. But after losing the last two outside of regulation, it became a little more important to try and squeeze out another point.
After missing the final minutes of last night’s game, the Avs had to figure out a way to do it without Cale Makar who was out of the lineup tonight due to a lower-body injury.
Though on the second leg of a back-to-back, they would have fresh legs in Alexandar Georgiev between the pipes and defenseman Sam Malinski earning his second-ever NHL start.
The Kings last played November 29th, so they were especially well-rested, and it showed. Despite a good effort in the beginning, the Avs ran out of gas in their 4-1 loss tonight.
Without the talents of Sam Girard, Cale Makar, and Artturi Lehkonen – tonight posed a real challenge opposite a relatively healthy L.A. team.
As expected, the first was a closely matched period. Shots were exactly even at six apiece. The Kings were able to generate a few dangerous chances in close, and kept the Avs moreso to the perimeter, but the Avs forced the Kings to be responsible defensively.
They earned their first powerplay chance at 9:14 and generated a couple looks but allowed some of their own. It wasn’t their best work.
About midway through the first, Val Nichushkin forced Carl Grundstrom into a footrace for the puck. The added pressure caused Grundstrom to lose an edge at the boards and Nichushkin was able to take off with it.
With their best on the ice, including Josh Manson who was elevated to the top pairing in Makar’s absence, Nichushkin set MacKinnon up to burst in with speed.
MacKinnon passed to Mikko Rantanen and Rantanen quickly found Manson at the top of the right circle. Manson came inside and wristed it past Cam Talbot.
In the second period, it was closer between both teams. L.A. continued to manage their lanes well, blocking a lot of chances, and Colorado was able to drive inside ice more effectively and get even more through than before.
At the halfway point, MacKinnon lost his balance and Mikey Anderson pokechecked the puck away from him in the offensive zone. Devon Toews and Bowen Byram responded on the backcheck. Adrian Kempe skated it in and Byram made a good attempt to tie up his lane, but Kempe opted to pass back to Anderson high in the zone.
Anderson let it rip from the top of the left circle and it made a clear path to the net. Quentin Byfield placed his stick blade at the crease to deflect it in past Georgiev.
Shots were 10-9 in that frame in favor of Colorado and the Avs led high-danger chances 5-3.
The second period was their best chance to make a push because they’d soon be running on fumes.
They were off to a rocky start in the third period. They’d stayed out of the box all game, but a Josh Manson cross-checking penalty put them on the kill early into its start.
The Kings generated a lot of momentum from this and sustained continued pressure in Colorado’s end for the first ten minutes.
Just under the ten minute mark, shots were so heavily skewed 17-2 (L.A.) in an almost improbable fashion.
Georgiev was impressive in this stretch in particular.
Even though the Avs tried to wake back up, L.A. was rolling.
At 13:26, Kempe and Byfield got back on the scoresheet for a second time.
Toews, Manson, and Fredrik Olofsson battled for the puck but it escaped them in the end, and Drew Doughty made a skilled pass between two skaters to Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar made the pass between Manson and Olofsson to Kempe behind the goal line, and Kempe sent it to Byfield to bang into Georgiev’s open corner, stick-side.
Less than a minute later, Jack Johnson and Ross Colton battled for the puck in their own end. Colton briefly got it away but it rimmed around the board to Trevor Moore. Moore danced around Caleb Jones and tapped it in off Georgiev’s mask from a tough angle along the goal line.
As the period winded down, Drew Doughty sailed it into the empty net to complete the night.
To look at the whole of the game, their efforts in the first 40 minutes were impressive given their circumstances on a back-to-back.
There was a stretch inside the third period that they tried to stave off the Kings, but they were just too far gone.
After beating the Kings in L.A. on opening night, the series was now tied 1-1 between these two teams.
The Kings deserve credit, they managed their lanes well and held Nathan MacKinnon to two shots on net. He had five additional attempts blocked. Their team defense did what it was supposed to, and Talbot did the rest.
Special teams remains troubling for the Avs. It’s a fickle part in hockey, and the success of the penalty kill has earned my trust – it was great tonight, but L.A. derived momentum from it when the opposite could be true.
It’s the powerplay that needs to exorcise its demons.
When they had their legs under them most in the second following L.A.’s tying goal, was the prime opportunity to convert and they couldn’t create anything meaningful.
The Kings are pretty strong in every area and Colorado was tested in their matchups. This is where the top-six have more to give, especially as of late.
The former 55-goal scorer has been without goal in the last six games – Rantanen undoubtedly can be more of a difference maker.
MacKinnon has been kept to two goals in the last six games and the volume shooter is not often held to just two shots on net. It was difficult for him to get shots through tonight because the Kings were ready for him.
Obviously not having key players tonight makes a huge difference too.
As the Avs return home for a five game homestand, wherein they have a 8-2-0 home record so far, they have an opportunity to strike more of a rhythm and routine.
They’ll get their first crack of redemption against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. Things went well for them the last time they faced the Ducks at home, so if they can channel a little bit of that dominance (and rest up) they should be in good shape.