Colorado kicked off the first game of their week-long road trip in Montreal. The struggling Canadiens lost their last six games prior to tonight’s contest, and Colorado was hoping to build upon the overtime victory against Arizona on Saturday.
Darren Helm was a full participant at morning skate, but would not yet make his return to action.
Alexandar Georgiev earned his 48th start of the season.
At 2:59 into the period. Devon Toews fed Logan O’Connor at the top of the left circle and he wristed it in through traffic and Artturi Lehkonen helped to screen their defender and tip it in.
Next, about three minutes later, Colorado applied a lot of pressure along the boards and Montreal attempted to clear. It trickled out of their zone, and Sam Girard collected the puck in the neutral zone and prepared the reset.
Girard angled the puck up to Bo Byram streaking in. Byram danced around Kaiden Guhle and wristed it in past Jake Allen.
Then, at 8:05 into the period, O’Connor collected the puck in the defensive zone and activated in transition. With Lars Eller on his wing, he dumped the puck in and Eller pursued it. Eller passed to Matt Nieto bursting down the slot with speed and Nieto wristed it in at the side of the crease.
At 15:22, Bo Byram was high-sticked by Mike Matheson and the Avs earned their first powerplay chance.
Colorado worked to win the puck back off the offensive zone faceoff, and Cale Makar moved along the blueline in search of the perfect play. He passed to Mikko Rantanen at the right circle and Lehkonen, planted at the net front, tipped Rantanen’s shot in.
Shortly after the goal, Devon Toews was called for boarding. Colorado made quick, efficient work of that kill.
With a little over a minute left, Montreal won the faceoff in the Avs end and Nick Suzuki got the puck back to Johnathan Kovacevic who ripped a shot toward the net. Josh Anderson batted the shot in midair in a fluke play that went in to make it 4-1.
Unlike the Arizona game, this first period much better represented the dominance of Colorado on the scoreboard.
Two minutes into its start, Montreal desperately tried to clear the puck out from their end. Colorado maintained possession and after a series of two cross-slot passes, one of which came from Toews: an impressive behind-the-back pass through the slot to Evan Rodrigues at the crease.
Rodrigues’ shot rebounded off Allen’s pad and Mikko Rantanen was there to clean it up and tap it in.
At 3:58 into the period shortly after, Val Nichushkin skated in on one Montreal defender and whipped out a spin-around move to evade him and passed to Cale Makar waiting at the blueline. Makar passed to Lehkonen at the half wall and Lehkonen set Nichushkin back up.
Nichushkin danced to the top of the crease and stickhandled to keep it away from the Montreal skater and passed it swiftly to J.T. Compher who went forehand-backhand and in. Colorado was now 6-1 and Jake Allen was pulled. Sam Montembeault came in as relief.
With 7:03 remaining, Artturi Lehkonen finished his shift and did not return. Peter Baugh reported he suffered a broken finger. He flew to Denver to undergo surgery.
At 9:46 minutes of ice time, Lehkonen managed two goals, an assist, three shots on net, and a hit. He certainly left his mark.
Late in the second period, a chaotic sequence led to several penalty calls. Nathan MacKinnon was originally called for tripping Kaiden Guhle and MacKinnon took issue with it and initiated a kerfuffle – Jack Johnson entered the conversation and both MacKinnon and Johnson went off alongside Guhle.
On the subsequent kill, Denis Gurianov received a pass at the right circle. Sam Girard was in his lane to try and challenge him, but Gurianov’s wrister seemed to take a weird path to the net.
Since March 2nd, the kill had been perfect through the last 17 times shorthanded.
Still, Colorado remained dominant, outshooting Montreal 25-9.
At 7:24, Nathan MacKinnon was tripped and Colorado went back on the powerplay. The Avs reset in the offensive zone. Makar passed to Nathan MacKinnon who skated from the defensive blueline into Montreal’s end by himself. He got around Kovacevic and wristed it in.
Montreal scored two goals in the span of two minutes starting at 8:48 into the final period.
Jesse Ylonen scored on a redirect off a shot from the blueline and then Mike Matheson scored from the slot after the Avs were caught down a man. Evan Rodrigues was possibly cross-checked or high-sticked and there was no call on the play – he was slow to resume play as a result on the goal against.
Colorado’s powerplay went three-for-three. Nathan MacKinnon drew a tripping penalty and the Avs went on the PP once more. At 13:09, Cale Makar sent a shot on net and Val Nichushkin’s stick redirected it in.
At 6:37, Michael Pezzetta laid a big hit on Sam Girard and Bo Byram skated in to voice his displeasure (with a crosscheck). Pezzetta started to punch Byram, so he was kind of baited into what became, thankfully, a nothing fight.
After their eighth goal and following that bout, the Avs had some jump in pursuit of a ninth, but that would do it for tonight.
Colorado won 8-4.
League-wide notice: Val’s back – After missing 29 games due to injury in total, Val Nichushkin’s year so far has been complicated. He didn’t miss 29 consecutive games to start. He first went down in late October and missed the entire month of November. Then in late December, he experienced something of a failure to launch and missed time after the December 23rd game in Nashville; he was working through some discomfort in his ankle.
He made his return at home on January 16th against Detroit and picked up an assist in the contest. The remainder of his month was a bit quieter than we’re used to with just a goal and an assist. Into mid-February, he had a ten game stretch with just a goal and two assists in that time. In that time, he was nursing an upper-body injury which caused him to miss touches of games and take liberal maintenance days.
For someone getting top-six and powerplay minutes, the drop in production was observable. It prompted concern that he was, reasonably, still fighting through some things and not at 100%.
After signing an eight-year contract this summer, some may have started to get antsy, longing for the Nichushkin of last year. With a goal and two assists tonight, he brings his season total to 13 goals and 22 assists.
Through this most recent string of games, starting on February 15th, Nichushkin is second on the team in points behind Nathan MacKinnon. He’s had 15 points in his last ten games.
I’d be content if the league didn’t put Val Nichushkin on notice. He could remain a sneaky, lethal weapon down the stretch for Colorado, but Avs fans should note: he’s so back.
As an aside, Cale Makar, Artturi Lehkonen, and Val Nichushkin all had three points tonight.