The Colorado Avalanche hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs at Ball Arena in Denver Saturday evening, eking out an overtime win in a thrilling game that had, at times, the feeling of a heavyweight fight. Toronto took a commanding 3-1 first period lead on the strength of two goals by Auston Matthews in the space of 33 seconds, chasing Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper from the game, but Colorado worked its way back to tie the contest in the third period and win it in the extra frame.
Defenseman Devon Toews secured the two points for the Avalanche with a slick shot past Toronto’s netminder, Jack Campbell. Campbell, who continues to make a case for Vezina Trophy consideration, stopped 44 of the 49 shots he faced, but it wasn’t enough.
The game was Colorado’s 11th straight win on home ice, setting a franchise record. It was also retribution for the Avalanche, who were embarrassed by the Maple Leafs when they visited Scotiabank Arena in Toronto in December, losing 8-3.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Devon Toews Having a Career Year
Toews, who was acquired from the New York Islanders after the 2019-20 season in exchange for two second-round draft picks, has established himself as an indispensable part of Colorado’s defensive corps. Playing on a pairing with Cale Makar — who is widely considered a strong candidate for the Norris Trophy — Toews is matching his linemate’s performance stride for stride.
Having missed the start of this year’s campaign due to offseason shoulder surgery, Toews has played in only 20 of Colorado’s 31 games. But in that time, he has 23 points (six goals and 17 assists), for an average of 1.15 points per game, good enough for second-best among NHL defenders, trailing only Ryan Ellis of the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s also double what was his career-best, .58 points-per-game last year. His plus-minus of plus-24 is tops in the league for defensemen and tied with Ryan Hartman of the Minnesota Wild and Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames, for the top mark among all skaters in the league.
While Toews’s overtime, game-winning goal wasn’t quite as electric as the overtime winner from Makar against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week — that goal is already being lauded as one of the best goals of the year — it was no less impactful.
Skating around a tired-looking Matthews, Toews received a pass from Mikko Rantanen and walked in on the goal unchecked. He out-waited Campbell and put the puck through the five-hole. The 27-year old native of Abbotsford, British Columbia is making a strong case for consideration for the Central Division’s All-Star roster, though the limited size of each squad will make it difficult for two blue-liners to come from the same team, and Makar is more or less considered a lock.
Francouz Comes Up Big in Relief
After Kuemper left the game in the first period, surrendering three goals on just eight shots, backup goaltender Pavel Francouz took over in net, settling things down and giving his teammates a chance to work their way back into the game. Known to fans as Frankie, the Czechia native stopped 18 of 19 shots, allowing one goal on a power-play. That goal, scored by Nick Ritchie, gave Toronto a commanding 4-1 lead. From that point on, Francouz was perfect.
Having missed all of the 2020-21 campaign with an injury suffered in the preseason, Francouz missed the first two months this year, also with an injury suffered in the pre-season. Tonight was a statement game for Francouz, showing he can be a reliable backup, bailing out Kuemper, and securing the win.
With back-to-back games scheduled Monday and Tuesday this week, and again on Friday and Saturday, Francouz will need to give similar performances to keep the Avalanche rolling. The team is 8-1-1 in their last ten and has won all three games played so far in 2022.
Rantanen Heating Up
Colorado’s first-line right-wing, Mikko Rantanen, had four assists in the victory, including a seeing-eye pass from behind the Maple Leafs’s net to JT Compher for the game-tying goal at 11:42 in the third period, and the pass to Toews for the game-winner. It was Rantanen’s ninth game in the last ten with at least one point; he had multi-point performances in seven of those games. He has 21 points over that ten-game stretch; nearly double the 11 points he tallied in the previous ten games.
Rantanen’s 40 points in 28 games is good enough for seventh-best in the league. Other than his teammate Nazem Kadri — who has 44 points, also in 28 games — every other player on the list of league leaders has played at least 33 games. Rantanen’s 1.43 points-per-game is good enough for fifth in the league.
The Avalanche are back in action Monday night as they play host to the Seattle Kraken. It will be the Kraken’s first visit to Colorado. The Avalanche will need to be careful not to look past Seattle, as they travel to Nashville to take on the Central Division-leading Predators on Tuesday night.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.