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There’s a scene from “The Office” where main character and cliche-ruiner Michael Scott realizes he has the upper hand on his former employer and he starts a conversation by saying, “Well, well, well. How the turntables…” before trailing off and realizing he’s screwed up the phrase.
That’s kind of what I imagined tonight when Nathan MacKinnon and Sam Girard had just combined for the assists on Colorado’s seventh goal of the night in a 7-3 beating of the St. Louis Blues in Pepsi Center.
The Blues had twice been the kryptonite to Colorado’s Superman act earlier in the season, stopping multiple lengthy point streaks in their tracks and sending Colorado into miniature tailspins each time.
Instead of getting right against a random team from the east, Colorado took out the recent frustrations of multiple blown leads late in games on a Blues team that had beaten the Avs with relative ease in St. Louis in both matchups.
It was behind the brilliance of MacKinnon upfront and a suddenly-electric Girard on the back end that Colorado unleashed its onslaught of offense against the team they are currently chasing for first place in the Central Division.
After an even opening 19:50 with shots tied at eight apiece, Gabe Landeskog forced a puck up the wall defensively and MacKinnon beat Brayden Schenn in a puck battle and rocketed down the ice for a clean breakaway.
MacKinnon didn’t miss and the Avs suddenly had a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission and finally something to feel good about against a team that had beaten them six consecutive times entering tonight.
The Avs kept the pressure up in the second period when Nazem Kadri scored early. Colorado took their 2-0 lead to a two-man advantage after two Blues penalties in quick succession put the spotlight on Colorado’s shaky power play unit.
That unit blew up, however, scoring during that advantage to give the Avs a three-goal lead and they would add two more later in the game as the cake got the icing it deserved.
“Aggressive mentality and obviously it’s been a struggle, but we finally broke out
and some guys made some really good plays” MacKinnon said.
The game wasn’t without its warts, however, as the Blues scored twice late in the second period to bring the score to 3-2. After all the recent issues the Avalanche have had blowing leads, it was understandable everyone in the building got a little uptight.
That’s when Colorado’s other superstar made his biggest mark on the night.
Cale Makar had snagged an assist on the third goal of the game but with the Avs on another power play late in the second period, he buried one past Jordan Binnington and gave Colorado the kind of breathing room they definitely needed heading into the third.
“It’s huge,” Girard said. “Instead of being up 3-2, it’s 4-2. The power play did a great job tonight. Like I said, we have to keep going like we did today for the rest of the season.”
MacKinnon went even further than his teammate.
“Something just kind of felt different tonight, like when they tied it up or they made it 3-2 or whatever it was, there was no panic,” he said. “I think [Makar] had a big goal with 10 seconds left in the second and that kind of iced it. So, no panic, I think that’s what we found. We needed some maturity from everybody and we had that tonight.”
Colorado took their 4-2 lead and instead of sitting back, turned it into a 7-2 lead and outshot the Blues in the process.
A late St. Louis goal made a difference in the goal differential race but not in the game as the Avs walked to victory.
Finishing with four assists on the night and generally playing like a man possessed offensively, Girard had the kind of night we expected to see more often when the Avalanche initially traded for him.
Following the game, Girard was less inclined to talk about his accomplishments and looked more at how they worked as a group.
“We played like we have to,” Girard said. “Keep it simple, create some turnovers behind their goalline. We’re going to have to keep going like we did today. That’s what it is, where the speed is today. That’s why we scored seven goals today.”
The aggressive mindset MacKinnon mentioned when talking about the power play also applied at even strength. In the end, the Avs outshot the Blues 42-27. Against one of the league’s best defensive teams, that’s a hell of an impressive effort.
“I think we shot more pucks,” Girard added. “We’re going to have to keep shooting like we did. We’re going to create some chances from there. We had a lot of rebounds today. We have to keep shooting.”
Girard’s locker neighbor added more praise to the pile.
“Everybody played unreal tonight,” Makar said. “You know, Jost, Girard, both guys are deep guys that we need to play well and everybody else who chipped in tonight and that’s what we needed, to win against a championship team.”
There’s been a lot of talk about Colorado not being quite championship-caliber yet because they couldn’t hold leads. Tonight, they not only held the lead but added to it and created an insurmountable mountain to climb for their opponent.
In short, the Blues were buried by an Avalanche.
- There’s a lot of special to get into tonight but I want to start with Girard. He took an interference penalty in the second period and Alex Pietrangelo scored like three seconds into the power play to make it 3-2 and make it a suddenly tense atmosphere in Pepsi Center. It was a borderline call but a play Girard just can’t make. He knows where the line is and I was surprised when he stayed engaged as long as he did. That said, this was the kind of offensive performance that was a nightly affair during his career in the QMJHL. Obviously, the NHL is a bit of a tougher nut to crack when it comes to scoring than the Q, but Girard’s mediocre point totals in the NHL have never made sense to me. He was always such a special playmaker and play-driver in juniors that the 30-ish point ceiling he seemed to have created for himself was a mild disappointment. The player we saw tonight, however, was something else entirely. Girard also had a strong offensive performance two nights ago against the Winnipeg Jets and this is now two nights of him really pushing play with his legs. His confidence in skating pucks through the neutral zone and into dangerous areas and creating for those around him was really a sight to behold. For Avs fans unfamiliar with Girard before his arrival, this was seemingly out of left field. For those of us who watched him back during his junior days, well, let’s just say it was about damn time.
- If the Avs get tonight’s version of Girard even half of the time, and I’m talking process not result because obviously he’s not scoring four points in half of his games, the Avs have a suddenly explosive tandem on the blueline with Makar also lurking.
- I say “lurking” like what Makar is doing isn’t special in its own right. His two points (1g, 1a) give him 31 points in 33 games played. He’s just four points behind Victor Olofsson for the rookie scoring lead despite Olofsson having played 41 games. He’s a dynamic game-breaker even when he’s not at his best and we saw some of the defensive lapses a bit tonight. He was also battling an illness so he stuck to shorter shifts and managed his way through the game.
- Makar also had the pleasure of playing in front of his former team as the UMass men’s hockey team is in town to take on the University of Denver this weekend. Makar said he didn’t have a chance to see his old team before the game but that he stays in regular touch with all of them.
- Joonas Donskoi got Colorado’s seventh goal of the night and got him started right after a rough December where he just couldn’t find points. The goal was the 14th of the season for Donskoi, tying him for his career-high after just 41 games played. He scored 14 goals in each of the last two seasons but it took him 66 and 80 games, respectively, to get there.
- Girard’s four-point night puts him at 20 on the season, just seven behind the mark he set last season. When the team traded Tyson Barrie over the summer, the big question was if Girard and Makar could, over the course of a full season, replace the 59 points Barrie scored last year. Through 41 team games, they’ve combined for 51 points. I’d say the Avs made a smart gamble there.
- Especially because they got Nazem Kadri in return, whose two goals tonight give him 15 on the year. He hasn’t been a big playmaker for them as he only has 12 assists but the goal-scoring and grittiness are what he was brought in to do. Tonight, he did it at a very high level and did it while going against the Ryan O’Reilly line.
- Philipp Grubauer gave up three goals tonight and never really looked like he was 100% on his game. He continues to battle through a level of play below his best but nowhere near the sieve level he reached last year when his save percentage dropped into the .860 range. Jared Bednar said after the game he needs his number one goaltender to get into the rhythm he needs to be in to play his best and in order to do that, he has to keep playing him through these struggles. There are no easy answers here and Grubauer simply has to step his game up. He certainly wasn’t bad tonight but the second goal was a clean shot from the point that he didn’t track very well. I didn’t mind the other two goals, especially the first goal after I saw the replay of it where it appeared Erik Johnson poked the puck away from Grubauer as he was trying to cover it. That miscommunication led to an easy wraparound goal and helped elevated St. Louis back into the game. The second one was really the troublesome one for me. The Avs play two teams in the bottom half of the league in offense in the next two games so Grubauer will have a chance to keep building on the confidence he should have gotten from recording his first win since December 4.
- The Avs finished the first half of their schedule with 24 wins, tied for the second-highest total in Avalanche history behind the 2000-01 and 2013-14 teams who each had 26 wins through 41 games. That 24 mark ties them with the 1996-97 team that won the President’s Trophy with 107 points.