Maybe the luck is changing for the Colorado Avalanche. After trying to catch a break for more than a month, the Avs took advantage of some rare occurrences to blast the Vancouver Canucks 7-1 on Thursday.
Seven different players recorded a point in the first period alone, and seven different players tallied a goal – two of which were their first of the season. The offensive outburst snapped a mini two-game losing skid and gave the Avalanche a boost of confidence on the same day they learned they’d be without superstar Nathan MacKinnon for the next three weeks.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s lopsided victory:
Avalanche’s Healthy Defense Turns Tide
For the first time all season, Colorado put the defensive pairings on the ice the Avalanche envisioned at the beginning of the campaign. The result was as solid a performance as the group had delivered all season. Four of the six defensemen recorded an assist in the victory.
Cale Makar returned from injury after missing the last two games and was paired with Devon Toews – who was playing in just his second game of the season. That put Bowen Byram with Samuel Girard on the second pairing and Jack Johnson with Erik Johnson to round out the corps. The Avalanche held Vancouver to just three shots on target in the opening frame. Vancouver didn’t register its first shot on goal until 9:08 was left in the first period, despite having an early power-play, as well.
In the first period, Makar notched an assist, and Byram forced a turnover that led to Mikko Rantanen’s fourth goal of the season. In the second stanza, Toews notched a goal and an assist, while Girard tallied a pair of helpers. Toews’ goal came with 5.4 seconds left in the period and was his first of the season. Makar finished with a pair of assists in the win.
The defense could get all pistons firing, but not all of the news was good news. With around three minutes left in the first period, Byram was tagged by Vancouver’s Bo Horvat with an inadvertent elbow as they fought for the puck. The Colorado defenseman slowly made his way to the bench and did not return. The other five blueliners were enough to finish the job after paving the way to a six-goal lead entering the third period.
Nichushkin Delivers In First Game Back
As rare as it is for Valeri Nichushkin to contribute offensively, his first goal of the season came under unlikely circumstances, as well. Nichushkin scored the first goal of the game early in the first period – and it came on the power play. It was just the fifth power-play goal of the season for the Avalanche.
Colorado’s power play ranked 30th in the NHL entering the game, converting just 4 of 38 opportunities (10.5 percent). Only the Arizona Coyotes (9.7 percent) and expansion Seattle Kraken (9.5 percent) were worse. It was also just the fifth power-play goal of Nichushkin’s career and his first since Feb. 20, 2020 – 15 games before the initial shutdown for COVID-19.
It was just the second game of the season for Nichushkin. He tallied an assist in his only other appearance, the season-opening victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 13. That kind of offense will be welcomed, especially since he will likely be getting a glut of top-six minutes with MacKinnon shelved for the bulk of the next month.
O’Connor’s Onslaught Pays Off
Entering Thursday’s contest, Logan O’Connor was leading the Avalanche in shots on goal. Seriously. The problem was, he only had one goal and two assists to show for it. The 25-year-old winger kept chugging away, and got rewarded with his second goal of the season, and added a short-handed assist for good measure. It was the first multi-point game of the University of Denver product’s NHL career.
O’Connor’s goal on Thursday came midway through the second period, and he added his assist a little more than five minutes later with the Canucks on the power play. The helper came on a nifty two-on-one pass to Darren Helm, who slid in the second short-handed goal of the season for the Avalanche to make it 5-0.
This season has been very solid for O’Connor in the early going. He’s averaging 13:45 of ice time this season, which is a major improvement from the 9:32 he averaged through his first three seasons. Through those first three seasons combined, he managed just five goals and seven points. O’Connor already has two goals and five points this season. The Avalanche hopes to keep the momentum going when they host the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.