A struggling Nashville team off to a 5-7-1 start came into Colorado after losing 5-1 to Seattle on Tuesday. Their problems aren’t so different from Colorado’s in terms of depth-scoring and needing more contributors outside of their top-six forwards.
Colorado is injury-depleted and, though no one has admitted it, likely jet lagged from the disruptive travel schedule. As division opponents, both teams were motivated to not walk out empty-handed.
As mentioned, the injury list is growing. The Avs are without Darren Helm and Gabriel Landeskog. Val Nichushkin had surgery on his ankle and is expected to miss a month, Bo Byram is week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Samuel Girard is day-to-day with a lower-body injury as well.
Subsequently, Colorado recalled LW Sampo Ranta, RW Martin Kaut, and C/LW Shane Bowers to round out a thinning roster. Ranta and Kaut have played 38 career NHL games between them – Ranta’s NHL stint was a 10-game trial to start last year – but an important storyline was the debut of Shane Bowers.
You’ll recall the 23-year olds’ challenging path to this point after a series of injuries followed him season to season, but tonight it finally happened for him. In a full circle moment, after Bowers’ rights were traded to Colorado from Ottawa in the memorable three-way Matt Duchene trade, he would get a chance to play opposite of him.
Additionally, tonight’s game honored the life of Avalanche color commentator, Peter McNab. It was a somber atmosphere in the building with a pregame ceremony dedicated to McNab. The crowd was asked to stand for a moment of celebration – not silence – before puck drop. There were elements of McNab in every corner of the arena with videos at every intermission and beautiful touches in the press box.
Early in the first, Jeremy Lauzon sent a long pass through the neutral zone to a waiting Predator’s player at the Avs blueline. Erik Johnson and Kurtis MacDermid were the defensemen back – Johnson went to complete the check, but Nashville managed to slip the puck in the offensive zone to a skating Ryan McDonagh. A two-on-one against MacDermid allowed Nashville to set up a passing sequence from Cody Glass to Eeli Tolvanen who beat Alexandar Georgiev far side.
At about 6:36 into the first, a collision behind Nashville’s net left Shane Bowers in obvious pain. He nursed his left side and went down the tunnel. He would not return to the game due to an upper-body injury. He played just three shifts with 1:46 TOI. Jared Bednar did not have a status update in the postgame, but he was seen walking about the locker room after.
About three minutes later, J.T. Compher’s netfront presence drew a cross-check from McDonagh. Colorado’s first-ranked powerplay continued to shine. It was honestly just good business. Nathan MacKinnon attempted the one-timer from the left circle and Lehkonen regained the rebound back to MacKinnon. MacKinnon got the pass through two Nashville skaters to Mikko Rantanen parked in the right circle who ripped a shot in.
All things considered, Colorado closed out the period looking pretty. They had two powerplay opportunities and capitalized on one, outshot Nashville 21-14, and stayed out of the box. They would start the second tied at 1-1.
Logan O’Connor kicked off the scoring at 6:34 into the period. He helped to cycle the puck to Compher and Toews at the blueline. Toews fired the shot from the front and O’Connor was skillfully in the slot to help direct the shot in.
A little more than a minute later, Compher tied up Nashville’s shooting lane in the d-zone and sent the puck to center ice. O’Connor, watching the play unfold along the boards, explosively drove to meet it on the rush. In all alone on the breakaway, O’Connor backhanded the puck in past Kevin Lankinen.
Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm continued to have a bad time. After getting walked by MacKinnon in the first, a Mikko Rantanen cross-check on Ekholm put Colorado on the kill. Not only was it a successful kill, but as it neared an end a MacDermid check along the board forced a turnover over to MacKinnon. Rantanen received MacKinnon’s pass up ice right as he came out of the box and beat Lankinen on the breakaway.
At 11:44 the puck crossed Georgiev’s goal line after the whistle and it was deemed no goal on the play.
This break helped Colorado to maintain their 4-1 lead. At 14:32, MacKinnon drew a tripping penalty on Lauzon. The Avs continued to move the puck well and MacKinnon backhanded a deceptive pass to Evan Rodrigues who whipped it in.
A late-period call on Artturi Lehkonen for tripping placed Colorado on their second kill of the game. Mikael Granlund’s shot was redirected in by Ryan Johansen at 19:32, and Colorado would enter the third period up 5-2.
The burst of scoring was a necessary boost to Colorado’s game. Nashville closed in on the shot differential from the break between both teams from the first. Colorado had the total shot advantage, and the scoring chances between both teams for the period were even with the Avs dishing significantly higher danger ones.
Three minutes into its start, Nashville set up in Colorado’s end. There was chaos in front. Toews was prepared to clear the puck from the crease but appeared to take an elbow to the face. Understandably he failed to get it out and it trickled to Roman Josi posted up at the right circle. He sent it to Fabbro at the point and back again. Josi scored on the one-timer.
In the final minutes, Rantanen and O’Connor were on the ice together in a last-ditch effort to secure one of them the hattrick. They weren’t able to pull it off, but it was still a successful three-point night for Rantanen and two for O’Connor.
Colorado won 5-3 and gave a final salute to the empty seat in the booth in memory of Peter McNab. The Avs finished tied in shots at 35 apiece, but had 60.87% of tonight’s high-danger scoring chances in a reflection of impactful shot selection.
- Alexandar Georgiev had another strong performance. He stopped 32 of 35 chances to earn a 0.914 SV% on the night. He stopped five of six high-danger chances and there was a possible case to made of interference on Nashville’s third goal. His solid play has helped to backstop Colorado through the past three straight wins.
- Logan O’Connor’s burst of offense now has him at six points through 12 games. With four goals spanning the last three games, he has started something of a streak. With the Avs as banged up as they are, the depth scoring has come at a pivotal moment.
- Sampo Ranta saw limited action in just 5:36 TOI. It was more than Dryden Hunt who played 5:04. Bednar described Ranta’s night as “pretty good”. He hit a few events even in limited use with two shots and two additional shot attempts and a 69.23% CF. After scoring his first goal with the Eagles and an assist on November 5th during the Ontario series, he has shown more of a jump to his game. Ranta’s goal celebration after he finally scored for the Eagles was not one of victory – he looked relieved and hungry. Though this opportunity has come about due to unfortunate circumstances, Ranta is motivated to make an impression after a quiet showing up with the Avs last year.
- Despite injuries particularly affecting the second powerplay unit, which was made up of Newhook, Compher, Toews, MacDonald, Kaut, the heavy lifting of the top unit has lifted Colorado’s powerplay in a herculean way that has maintained their status as the best in the league at 40.5%. Without Val Nichuskin, Evan Rodrigues has aided the top unit of MacKinnon, Lehkonen, Rantanen, and Makar. The Avs capitalized on two of their three chances. The whole top unit was excellent here, but especially Nathan MacKinnon.