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Lessons from Defeat: Colorado's PK Continues to Build Momentum Despite Montreal Setback

Meghan Angley Avatar
March 27, 2024

After securing their 25th comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, the Colorado Avalanche came back down to earth in their 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Montreal was galvanized by the return of their beloved coach Martin St. Louis after a brief leave of absence. Colorado won nine straight before David took down Goliath.

Truthfully it just wasn’t Colorado’s best effort and Montreal stifled a lot of their shot generation.

They shouldn’t beat themselves up too much after the run they just went on, but it was ripe with learning lessons.

It’s the perfect time to shake loose any bad habits that have hung around through this point in the season – particularly those that seem to come after a day off in between games. “I don’t like our team after full days off,” Jared Bednar said.

“We didn’t check hard enough in the first period,” he explained. “We [didn’t] outscore our mistakes. It’s frustrating [because] we’ve been doing that.”

“So we just didn’t do enough on the defensive side early, probably didn’t do enough on the offensive side later,” he added. “We just weren’t pushing the way we can – looked like the energy was down.”

Point-Streak Secured

Throughout Colorado’s recent string of wins, a habit of allowing the first goal-against emerged. Bednar emphasized the importance of avoiding that position in the first place.

The Avs corrected this with a goal in the opening minute from none other than Nathan MacKinnon.

Montreal broke up a play in their end, but the puck was angled back into the zone. Devon Toews retrieved the puck and used Mikko Rantanen at the post to springboard the puck to MacKinnon at the right-circle. MacKinnon wristed the puck far-side to put the Avs up first. 

With a goal just 43 seconds into the game, MacKinnon tied Milan Hejduk (8) for the most opening minute goals in Avs/Nordiques history. He also extended his home point-streak to 35 games and extended his point-streak to 19 games and matched his career-best run which he set previously this season.

MacKinnon also became the first player in NHL history to record two different 19-game point-streaks in a single season.

Unfortunately Montreal struck back immediately after.

Nick Suzuki won the center ice draw and Montreal controlled possession. David Savard sent the puck down the wall and Suzuki beat Casey Mittelstadt to it. Suzuki protected the puck, drove to the net, and wristed it to the far-post and in past Justus Annunen.

The quick goal-against took the wind out of their sails, but the Avs pushed back. Their best chance to come back came inside the first period, but Montreal went toe-to-toe.

MacKinnon led the team in shots (4), but he was eaten alive at the faceoff dot by Jake Evans. MacKinnon accounted for three high-danger chances; however, and made up the lone high-danger chance through three powerplay chances.

Defense Denied

Colorado still leads the league in shots for the month of March with an average 37.7 shots per game in that frame, but they finished with 28 shots on goal against Montreal.

It was another way in which the Montreal game was uncharacteristic of what the Avs have been doing lately.

Colorado’s D was particularly active in the shot share, but Montreal stifled their attempts. The Avs’ D accounted for 16 of Colorado’s 11 attempts blocked, so it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Even still, Cale Makar took a lot of learning lessons from the game. 

“Their track record lately, they’ve just been outworking teams. We knew that coming in,” he said. 

“It’s just another lesson. We have to take that as learning. The teams we’re going to continue to play now, they’re going to be playoff teams and every team is going to try and outwork us because they want to. For us, we have to be able to show up every night. I just felt like overall, we didn’t simplify our game plan tonight enough.”

Penalty Kill Momentum

One kernel of optimism from the Montreal game to build upon is the continued success of the penalty kill. The Avs had to kill three penalties (a minor and a double-minor) and kept the puck out of the back of their net in a close game.

In March so far, Colorado has the 6th best penalty kill in the league and has allowed just three goals through 28 times shorthanded.

Colorado’s PK created several shorthanded chances in the Pittsburgh game. When they needed it most, the Avs derived momentum from the aggressive execution of the kill.

Colorado lacked a little bit of energy at points in the Montreal game, but never on the kill. That unit seemed to be a refreshing injection of jet fuel.

New additions have blended in seamlessly to Colorado’s kill. Yakov Trenin and Brandon Duhaime understand the assignment. Each has tried to seek out shorthanded opportunities responsibly, and Trenin has posted a solid record in winning the opening d-zone draw too.

Annunen Extended

Despite the disappointing outcome of the Montreal game, it was a special day for 24-year old goaltender Justus Annunen.

The Colorado Avalanche announced Tuesday that the team has signed Annunen to a two-year, one-way contract through the 2025-26 season.

It’s a big vote of confidence from the organization for his role moving forward.

Annunen was excited about the contract.

“I want to play here and I got the opportunity, so I just need to earn my spot here every day,” he said.

“It’s been awesome,” he added. “Peter (Colorado Eagles Goaltending Coach Peter Budaj) is [an] experienced goalie so I learn a lot from being down there and Jussi (Colorado Avalanche Goaltending Coach Jussi Parkkila) has been around pros for a long time, so he’s helping me a lot here. I have two unreal goalie coaches, so it’s been a huge perk.” 

Annunen stopped 25-of-27 Montreal shots (.926), but was faced with the loss. The result snapped his four-game win streak, which stands as a tie for the longest in the NHL by a rookie goaltender this year.

Including this season, Annunen spent the last three seasons as the starting goaltender for the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League.

“He’s a guy that takes a lot of pride in his game,” Eagles head coach Aaron Schneekloth said. 

“He works hard with Peter Budaj off the ice with video, but then takes accountability for his game. He knows when he doesn’t play well or if he doesn’t stop a puck, (and) he owns it and he works at it.”

“It’s been a great success story. If he continues to have that growth, he’s going to have an outstanding NHL career.”


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