It was a beautiful spring-like day in Denver, and we had some afternoon hockey to go with it!
The Colorado Avalanche came into today’s matchup with the Arizona Coyotes looking to bounce back after a lackluster performance two nights ago against the LA Kings.
It’s been such an interesting season for the Avs, in terms of their results. At times they’ve looked like the juggernaut we saw last year. Other times they looked like the version of the Avs from several seasons ago that had all the talent, but was still learning how to play with consistency.
With 19 games to go, as much as they needed the points today, they needed this game against a lesser opponent to start building some consistency heading down the stretch.
The game got off to a good start for the Avalanche. Lots of pace, good focus in their play, and it only took two minutes for them to cash in.
Denis Malgin broke into the zone down the right wall, made a nice little chip past the Arizona defender, and then went forehand to backhand to put it behind Coyotes’ goaltender Connor Ingram. The Avs were off and running, and the afternoon crowd was into it.
It really felt like the Avalanche understood the importance of the day, that goal had them buzzing a bit and they started to tilt the ice in their favor.
Their pressure helped them draw a penalty when Zack Kassian cross-checked Alex Newhook right in the numbers. They weren’t able to capitalize on the man advantage, but again, good zone time and pressure.
Not long after the penalty expired, the biggest issue the Avalanche had in the early going of this game reared its head for the first time.
The Coyotes came up ice, the Avs had good numbers back, and it looked like a pretty harmless rush. Then for some reason, Bowen Byram decided to try and initiate contact with the man who didn’t have the puck.
I think he was just trying to let Jack McBain know that he saw him, but it lead to Byram getting his skates twisted around and him falling to the ice. Of course, the puck squirted loose right to Byram and he tried unsuccessfully to play it from his stomach, but he ended up giving it right back to the opposition.
Suddenly the Avs were scrambling in their own end, and it cost them. Alexandar Georgiev made the first save, but two ‘Yotes were standing uncovered (including Jack McBain) right on the doorstep to punch it in.
Just a sloppy play by the Avs in their own end. Really felt to me like they gave one away.
Credit to the Avalanche, I thought they pushed back after that goal, and really took control of the playback. Colorado generated good chances, and really forced Connor Ingram to be good in order to keep the game tied.
The first period was winding down, and it felt like it would have been slightly disappointing for the period to end tied at 1-1, given that the Avalanche pretty clearly had the better of the scoring chances in terms of quality and quantity.
With less than two minutes to go, another seemingly harmless rush by the Coyotes turned into a facepalm moment for the Avs.
Just terrible communication in their own end, losing track of guys, nobody backing up, and way too many guys puck-watching.
Credit to the Coyotes, it was a slick passing play that ended in Clayton Keller being WIDE OPEN causing into the home plate area. A nice move, and he slipped it five-hole.
Not only were the Avs going to hit the break without the lead, but they were also going to have to chase.
Coming out of the room, the second period felt very similar to the first. Colorado pushing the play, controlling the vast majority of zone time, and generating scoring chances. Despite all of that, it felt like the Avs were running uphill.
Nothing was going quite right. Sure they were getting shots on net, yeah they were holding the zone, but they were just a half-step out of sync.
Inversely, seemingly every time the Coyotes were able to get their paws on the puck and head up ice, it turned into a Grade A scoring opportunity.
Before the game’s halfway point, it looked like the Avs had gotten it tied, but it was ruled that Matt Nieto knocked the puck down with his hand immediately before Malgin punched it home in the crease. Just another example of the Avs having to swim against the current today.
Still though, the Avalanche continued to press, and seemed relatively undeterred by the bad break.
JT Compher caught a high-stick off of an offensive-zone face-off and that sent the Avs back to the power play. This one felt like the Avalanche HAD to get one here. They just couldn’t let another opportunity like this slip away, they were outplaying the Coyotes by too wide of a margin to not cash in.
It was a little touch and go at first, but Nathan MacKinnon eventually said, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” He collected the pass from Mikko Rantanen, held it, held it, held it, and then fired it up over Connor Ingram. Tie game.
Georgiev had to take centerstage for a stretch when Artturi Lehkonen pulled down a Coyotes defenseman while in on the forecheck. He made a number of big stops to keep the game tied, and also managed to get some help from the crossbar.
Crossbar or not, the Avs were tied heading into the break, something they definitely deserved given the way the game had been playing out.
The first half of the third period was a lot tighter from both teams. A lot of the sloppy mistakes that we were seeing made in the first 40 minutes had been cleaned up, and you could tell both groups wanted to make the other team work for their opportunities. No freebies.
The Avalanche definitely got the bulk of the chances, by like a lot. Like to the point that Arizona literally didn’t get a shot on net in the final 20 minutes. The entire third period was played in the Coyotes’ end.
The final shot count for the third was 19-0. There is zero question that the Avalanche had gotten the better of the play and deserved to win this game in regulation. That didn’t happen and we needed OT to get a winner.
Nathan MacKinnon told us after the game that the Coyotes were dropping back into a 1-4, standing four players up at their own blue line to try and mitigate chances against. Essentially, they were just giving the Avs free ice and they were taking it.
Something similar continued into the OT, Arizona just not really trying to get up ice at all. After a couple of reloads into the neutral zone for the Avs, Cale Make suddenly had a lane, made a beautiful move to the middle of the ice, and Ingram was out on Speer Street. Cale put the puck into an empty net and that was it.
The Avalanche deserved this one and worked through a lot of frustrating moments in this game to eke out a win. Gutsy performance to end the home stand, now they have to take that same effort, with better execution out on the road.