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Last year’s mountain of injuries felt insurmountable for the Colorado Avalanche. It’s not to say the year was a wash, but the challenges stacked as the absences grew.
They threw the kitchen sink at the Seattle series to push seven games. Whether we realized it at the time or not, it set the standard even higher for the 2023-24 season.
With exciting new additions and renewed health, they’ve not been without challenges.
Some of their lows have felt really low, but it’s the price of winning: expectations meet the team where they’re at.
With Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon coming off career years and a lineup that includes Cale Makar nightly, it’s hard to bet against the Avs.
Their window is as wide open as it’s ever been and the new year is brimming with hope.
Before they could turn the page on 2023, they had one game to complete against the San Jose Sharks and they rang in 2024 with a 3-1 over the Sharks.
And they’d get to do it with the return of defenseman Sam Girard. Girard entered the player assistance program on November 24th to receive care.
The crowd in Ball Arena erupted in cheers during his first shift back as soon as he touched the puck.
“He’s such a great person… and he seems like he’s in an awesome place now. He looked great tonight…really impressed with him,” said MacKinnon
Early into the contest, the Avs received a powerplay opportunity.
The Avs reset after a missed shot attempt. MacKinnon used Jonathan Drouin in the bumper to ping the puck back to himself. Using Val Nichushkin at the netfront, they cycled the puck around the Sharks D and moved even lower so that MacKinnon could slip the puck through a seam to Rantanen at the bottom of the right-circle.
Rantanen dropped to one knee and banged it home.
MacKinnon’s home point streak was extended to 19 games – a continued franchise record.
The Avs made light work of the first period. They held San Jose to just three shots and created ten of their own.
On the whole, the Avs were clearly the strongest team tonight. The Sharks struggled to create, but they had a handful of dangerous opportunities that the Avs couldn’t underestimate.
In the second period, it was a parade to the penalty box. Both teams took three penalties a piece, and on the third one for Colorado, the Sharks managed to sneak one in.
Mikael Granlund made the cross-slot pass to Tomas Hertl and Hertl wristed it past Georgiev’s glove-side.
Despite the Avs outshooting the Sharks by triple, the game remained tied. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, and Colorado received two additional powerplay opportunities in the third period.
Jared Bednar described the possession as “one-and-done” chances inside the second period. They were obviously trying to create, but the quality of the chances left something to be desired.
Kaapo Kahkonen had a strong night in net. He faced 33 shots to Alexander Georgiev’s 11 on the night.
Colorado dug even deeper in the third period.
With a little over three minutes left, something had to give.
Girard helped clean up the puck from the half wall and handed it off to MacKinnon to feed Jack Johnson at the top of the circle. Johnson found Nichushkin planted at the netfront and Nichushkin scored his 17th goal of the season and 15th point in the month of December.
MacKinnon’s contributions also solidified his place as the league’s highest points producer in December at 29 points, appropriately.
In addition to a franchise record for the most points in a single month, his home points streak is also 7th in the NHL for home point streaks starting from the season opener onward and a continued franchise record.
Rantanen’s earlier powerplay goal marked his 50th goal in the calendar year. Together, Rantanen and MacKinnon set another franchise record for multiple players to achieve 50+ since last January.
Shortly after Nichushkin’s goal, Miles Wood drew a penalty but it was soon neutralized after Makar went to the box for tripping.
Hertl also received a game misconduct in the final minutes, so Josh Manson’s empty-net goal was also shorthanded.
“The third period was even a step above our first,” said Bednar. “But the second period, it was just not quite competitive enough to like dig in and go score… I think we bounce back nicely in the third to secure the victory, and that’s all you can ask for.”
“You’re gonna need to win in all different ways once you get to the postseason,” Makar added.
It was a timely win for the Avalanche to boost their points in the standings and set themselves off on the right foot heading into the new year.