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Colorado saw the New York Islanders earlier in the season on the road trip that ended in disappointment with two back-to-back shutout losses in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Though not doomed to repeat, it’s important the Avs start the year off right and take the series against the Isles with a win tonight. It took a gutsy effort to get there, and they didn’t do it in regulation, but they got the 5-4 win in overtime.
In 2024, the lineup already looked more encouraging for Colorado. Artturi Lehkonen participated in morning skate in a red, no-contact jersey and Ross Colton returned to the lineup.
The Avs had good jump at the drop of the puck, but it was also a little chaotic, hair on fire type hockey. They had seven high-danger opportunities in the first period to the Islanders’ two.
A broken play on a whiffed shot and a bouncing puck on the backcheck led to a rush chance the other way.
Pierre Engvall got inside-ice and wristed the puck through Alexandar Georgiev’s five-hole.
It didn’t take the Avs long to respond.
Cale Makar busted into the Isles’ end and fought through three skaters to get the puck to Logan O’Connor in relief. O’Connor got the puck to Devon Toews at the top of the slot and the former Islander wristed it through traffic past Semyon Varlamov.
During the commercial break, Ilya Sorokin entered the game after a suspected injury to Varlamov.
The Islanders took two penalties, but the Avs struggled to get much on net.
Near the end, Nathan MacKinnon got tangled up with Scott Mayfield away from the play and went to the box for roughing.
Almost immediately on the powerplay, Brock Nelson charged past the Avs D with a quick entry and wristed it five-hole to sneak away with the lead.
The Islanders built upon it early into the second period too.
Sorokin stopped a two-on-one with Mikko Rantanen on one end and Cal Clutterbuck knocked the rebound up ice on for Simon Holmstrom to take on the rush. Holmstrom wristed the puck past Georgiev from inside the right-circle.
Shortly after, the Avs received a powerplay opportunity. Seconds after it expired, the unit still had possession and Toews sent the puck to Jonathan Drouin at the bottom of the circle.
Drouin found an incredible seam to Sam Girard across the slot and Girard snapped it on net. Val Nichushkin cleaned up the rebound from the crease.
Near the midway point, Drouin broke the puck out and MacKinnon made the controlled entry. MacKinnon dropped the puck to Rantanen at the half-wall. Rantanen threw on the brakes to wait out Casey Cizikas and found Drouin at the top of the slot.
Drouin settled the puck and snapped it past Sorokin at just the right moment.
“He’s earned his trust because he’s playing the game the right way with and without the puck,” Bednar said of Drouin. “(On) neutral zone faceoffs, he’s jumping through to push their D, comes up with pucks. Next thing you know, we’re playing offensive zone play like he’s checking the puck back, he’s hounding the puck on the track and backcheck. He’s doing all the right things away from the puck, so I trust to put him out in all types of situations up or down. He’s playing well, he’s helping us create offensive opportunities for himself, for his linemates, powerplay – he’s doing a lot for us right now. He was one of our top guys tonight.”
MacKinnon’s contribution on the play also extended his home points streak to 20 games.
Two minutes later, Alexander Romanov intercepted Jack Johnson’s pass to MacKinnon in the neutral zone.
Romanov had the puck at the point, and Rantanen valiantly tried to swoop in to bat the puck away, but Romanov got his release toward the net and the puck angled in off Johnson’s skate awkwardly.
They controlled possession and outshot the Islanders throughout.
In the third period, the Avs staved off a kill, O’Connor had a shorthanded chance, and they walked away with a powerplay.
Makar sent a shot on net and his stick exploded. MacKinnon corralled the puck and Nichushkin banged it home.
The clock ticked down and a kick-save from Georgiev and defensive play from Josh Manson allowed Nichushkin to break up ice. He fought through multiple skaters and shoved it on net.
MacKinnon nudged it in, but the play was dead because a delayed penalty was already coming and Sorokin’s glove was over it. Mayfield went to the box for holding.
“He was awesome tonight,” Bednar said of Nichushkin. “Our big guys were all good. He’s establishing himself net-front. We wanted to sort of repeat the third period from the other night: part of that is shooting the puck and part of that is getting multiple players to the net-front to battle for screens, tips, rebounds. Val is the first guy going there and he got rewarded twice for it tonight… he’s just driving his legs and taking it into seams.”
With twenty seconds left in regulation, the Avs went on the powerplay.
MacKinnon had a close chance, but this would have to be decided in overtime.
They had the benefit of four-on-three thanks to the late penalty and got to work right away. Makar fed the puck to MacKinnon in the left-circle and one-timed it in 32 seconds in.
The shots finished 39-22 in favor of the Avs. Georgiev struggled tonight.
On the first nine shots on net, the Avs allowed three goals. The Avs never once led in the contest until they won it in overtime.
The top guys worked hard to provide goal support to distract from the early goaltending struggles, and it amounted to twenty-plus minutes for them all.
Nichushkin ended with two goals and the play to draw the penalty that gave them the advantage in overtime.
MacKinnon’s three-point night was excellent and Makar snuck out with three-points too.
Drouin’s contributions highlighted his continued fit in Colorado and the growing trust from within his team.
He earned top line minutes while Nichuskin was placed on the second line to round out Ryan Johansen and Miles Wood. It obviously wasn’t a demerit of Nichushkin who left his mark on the game as well.
The Avs have a quick stop in Dallas to hunt down division points on Thursday. There’s confidence in Colorado’s stars to continue rolling.