Even though the Anaheim Ducks are not a playoff team, the Colorado Avalanche could not afford to take their collective foot off the gas pedal as the two clubs faced off on March 27. With the race for the top spot in the Central Division coming down to the wire, the Avalanche need every point they can get if they’re going to edge out the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars for first place. The big 5-1 win helped them remain competitive, and provided some valuable lessons as the team looks to the final games of the regular season and into the playoffs. Here are three takeaways from the victory.
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Nichushkin is a Key to the Team’s Success
Even though injuries have plagued Valeri Nichushkin’s season, the dynamic force he showed to start the campaign has not slowed down, despite the lengthy interruption. He led all forwards in ice time in this game, clocking in at 22:04 on the night. He contributed in an obvious way – netting the team’s fourth goal – but it’s his overall game that makes a huge impact. The forward plays on both the power play and the penalty kill, plays a physical game, adds multiple shots per game (he had five in the tilt against the Ducks), and even blocks shots. In sum, Nichushkin’s presence on the ice just cannot go unnoticed, as he’s a big player with both skill and grit.
Without Nichushkin (and many others) on the roster, the club did not fare anywhere close to as well as they are now. Since his return, though, the Avalanche have powered back to prove that they are still contenders in the Western Conference and among the league’s Stanley Cup favourites. His gameplay makes an obvious difference, and his energy has been key in some of Colorado’s biggest wins.
Nathan MacKinnon’s Quest for 100 Points Fuels Victories
As both Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are extremely close to hitting 100 points for the first time in their respective careers, the club is fuelled to big wins by their individual pursuits. MacKinnon in particular moved closer to the century mark for the first time in his career, collecting a goal and an assist for a total of 95 points in just 62 games. Rantanen added an assist, but MacKinnon was all over the ice, and his goal was quintessential Nate: the individual effort showed pure skill and dedication, and none of the Ducks’ defenders nor their goalie, John Gibson, could do anything to stop the puck from finding the back of the net.
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MacKinnon has nine games to get five points and hit 100, a task which seems very achievable as his pace is roughly 1.5 points per game. His drive to do so propels the club to victories and makes a huge difference in the Avalanche’s gameplay. He’s a difference maker every time he steps on the ice, both in his sheer talent and unwavering commitment to leading by example. His quest to mark something significant in his personal career also positively impacts the team in a massive way.
Avalanche Have Faith in Their Goalie Depth
With starting netminder Alexandar Georgiev on the bench for the night, Jonas Johansson – a depth goalie who slotted into the lineup following the injury to Pavel Francouz – took over, and the Avalanche showed no signs of discomfort. Instead, they made sure his night was light in terms of workload, despite the fact that he faced 30 shots on net. Very few were quality chances, and the Avalanche matched the energy by throwing 44 shots at Gibson.
What’s more, the defense showed up in full force, generating offense and allowing Johansson to face the flurry of shots the Ducks sent his way. The entire defensive core only blocked three shots on the night, meaning they didn’t feel the need to do Johansson’s job for him. Instead, they generated offense, which was particularly evident in Bowen Byram’s seven shots on goal in the contest, and trusted Johansson to turn away enough pucks to get them the victory.
The Avalanche are now 9-1-0 in their last ten games, and look like the playoff-contending team that everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the season. While the club wasn’t facing playoff-calibre opposition, the way they controlled the game exemplifies the swagger with which the Avalanche carry themselves and proved that the entire roster – from stars to depth players – play a vital role in victories.