Neither the Colorado Avalanche nor the Vegas Golden Knights are off to the start they were hoping for this season. But one thing from a year ago hasn’t changed, and it’s that Vegas still has Colorado’s number.
The Golden Knights used a pair of first period goals to set the tone for a 3-1 victory over the Avalanche on Tuesday night at Ball Arena. Vegas knocked the Avs out of last season’s playoffs, winning four straight over Colorado en route to the six-game series victory.
It was a rematch of the top two teams in the West Division last season, as they tied for the best record in the NHL. Colorado took the Presidents’ Trophy via tiebreaker thanks to more wins in regulation. Both were Stanley Cup favorites going into the season, but managed just four wins through their first 12 games combined – including Tuesday’s tilt.
Here are three takeaways from the Vegas victory in Denver on Tuesday:
Makar Finally Arrives
It took until the sixth game of the season, but Cale Makar finally notched his first goal of the 2021-22 campaign. Makar’s offense is starting to heat up, as he tallied a pair of assists in the win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. His goal on Tuesday was scored through some unlikely circumstances, as it came just 46 seconds after Colorado was nailed with a five minute penalty.
Jack Johnson got hit with the five minute major for interference on a nasty hit to Golden Knight Keegan Kolesar. But the teams went 4-on-4 for a couple minutes, due to Nicolas Roy getting tagged with a two minute penalty for instigating a fight with Johnson. The extra space opened things up for the Avalanche, and Makar slipped one past Vegas netminder Robin Lehner, who was hampered by a great screen from Mikko Rantanen.
The goal was the first of the season for Makar. It was a much-needed goal for the Avs, too, as their offense had been virtually non-existent up to that point in the contest. The late second-period goal gave the Avalanche a shot of energy entering the final period, which helped them kill off the remainder of the major penalty.
Makar also got off to a slow start last season, as he didn’t score his first goal until the 10th game of the campaign, netting one in the second period of a 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild. He wound up with eight goals and 36 assists last season on the way to finishing second in the voting for the Norris Memorial Trophy.
Avalanche’s Offensive Struggles Continue
The calling card for the Avalanche has been its electric offense, but this season has started with a bit of a power outage. Colorado was outshot 29-27 by the Golden Knights on Tuesday, marking the fourth straight game where the Avs have been outshot by their opponent. That only happened 11 times in 56 games last season. Colorado was 6-3-2 in games where it was outshot last season, but is already just 1-3 when outshot this season.
The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog delivered the bulk of the chances for the Avs, combining for 10 of Colorado’s shots on goal. That trio drove Colorado to their 4-3 shootout win over Tampa Bay, as each of them scored in regulation to force overtime. But for as much as this team relies on that top line, getting any depth scoring has been a struggle.
Through the first six games of the season, the Avalanche have scored 14 goals. The top line is responsible for six of those, and J.T. Compher (two goals) is the only other player with more than one goal on the season. Granted, MacKinnon missed the first two games of the season due to COVID, and Landeskog has missed a pair of games due to suspension.
On Tuesday, part of the problem was Vegas – but that is nothing new. The Avalanche have had trouble generating anything against the Golden Knights, dating back to last season. Including the playoffs, the Avs played 14 games against Vegas, going 6-7-1. In eight regular season games against Vegas, Colorado managed just 17 goals. The Avalanche averaged 3.51 goals per game last season, leading the NHL. In Colorado’s 14 games against Vegas, they averaged just 2.5.
Avalanche’s Power Play Remains Awful
Colorado’s power play this season has been a dismal failure, but the Avalanche are starting to reach embarrassing depths. The Avs were 0-for-2 with the man advantage on Tuesday, putting them at 2-for-22 on the season. The problem wasn’t just the futility on Tuesday, as the goal that proved to be the game-winner was scored with the Avalanche holding the man advantage.
Midway through the first period, Colorado went on the power play after a penalty to Vegas’ Nicolas Hague. A bad turnover by Makar turned into a breakaway for Reilly Smith, who was able to slip it past Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper for the short-handed goal. It was the first short-handed goal allowed by the Avalanche this season. They allowed just three all of last season.
Luckily for the Avalanche, the Vegas power play has been even worse than Colorado’s. The Golden Knights are the only NHL team to not have a power-play goal yet this season, going 0-for-3 on Tuesday. That puts Vegas at 0-for-14 with the man advantage on the season. The last time the Golden Knights scored a power-play goal was in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series against the Avalanche last season – meaning 14 straight games without a power-play goal. They’ve gone 0-for-32 during that span.
The Avalanche will try and get back on track with two more games this week. They travel to take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday before hosting the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. The Blues beat the Avalanche in their only other meeting this season, dumping Colorado 5-3 on Oct. 16.
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.