The Arizona Coyotes haven’t had a lot to cheer about this season, but they were able to beat the team with the NHL’s best record for the second time in a row. Nick Schmaltz’s third-period goal provided the difference as rookie Karel Vejmelka stopped 42 shots for the victory. It was the first time this season the Colorado Avalanche lost in regulation after scoring first (30-1-3).
The Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators are the only other teams to beat the Avalanche more than once this season. The Coyotes won the season series against Colorado this season, going 2-1-1 against them. Arizona is the only team to take five points from the Avs on the campaign. They also beat them 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 1.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s loss in Arizona.
Makar Makes History
Cale Makar hasn’t scored a goal in over a month, but that doesn’t mean the star defenseman is struggling. He assisted on Devon Toews’ second-period goal to extend his point streak to 10 games – the longest by an Avalanche defenseman in team history. It broke the previous record of nine games set by John-Michael Liles back in 2010.
Makar is one of the frontrunners for the Norris Trophy this season, as he leads all defensemen with 59 points. Only the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox (46) and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang (43) have more assists. He finished second in last year’s voting for the Norris Trophy to Fox. He leads all defensemen with 18 goals but hasn’t scored since slipping in an empty-netter against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 28.
The 18 goals are easily the most of his young career, and so are the 41 assists. During his point streak, Makar has piled up 15 assists. The 10-game point streak is the third-longest in NHL history without a goal. The longest point streak without a goal in NHL history is 12 games set by Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975-76.
Toews Roars Into March
Colorado’s Toews opened the scoring on Thursday, giving him goals in back-to-back games for the first time since he scored in their second and third games of the season. It’s a good sign for the defenseman, who hadn’t scored in eight straight games before lighting the lamp in the last two.
Toews has been overshadowed by the lights-out offensive campaign Makar is putting together but he is still having a phenomenal season. Offensively, it’s the best campaign of his young career, and it’s not even close. His previous career-high for goals (nine) and points in a season was 31, set last year. He already has 32 assists and his goal on Thursday gave him 11 on the season. He also leads the NHL in plus-minus at plus-46.
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Toews was sizzling at the start of the season, piling up 24 points through his first 21 games. He’s continued to stick pretty close to that pace but is still searching for a little more consistency. His longest point streak of the season is five games – when he piled up a goal and nine assists over five contests in early December – but he’s also been plagued with some barren stretches. The Avalanche hope his recent surge in the first two games of March will kick a stretch where he had only seven points over the 13 games that came before the last two contests.
Francouz Shines, But Not Brigher Than Vejmelka
Goaltender Pavel Francouz has been very good for the Colorado Avalanche this season, going 9-2 in his 11 appearances with a .921 save percentage (SV%) and 2.41 goals-against average (GAA) entering Thursday’s contest. He stopped 27 of 29 shots against the Coyotes – and the two that got by him came on a pair of spectacular plays. Unfortunately for Francouz, it was another Czech goaltender that stole the spotlight.
Vejmelka shone for the Coyotes, stopping 42 shots in the victory. It was just the eighth win of the season for him, but his third where he had to make at least 40 saves. Three of those came with the Avs on the power play early in the third period with the game tied 1-1. The Arizona goaltender also benefited from Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog clanging one off the post during that man advantage, but killing that penalty sparked an inspired third for Arizona.
Schmaltz scored a fantastic goal to break the 1-1 tied just 5:27 into the third on a great feed from Clayton Keller, and Vejmelka did the rest. The Avalanche outshot the Coyotes 13-8 over the final 20 minutes, but they had the final six shots of the game as they scrambled for the equalizer. Vejmelka calmly turned all of them aside without much trouble. There was little Francouz could do on Arizona’s first goal, as Loui Eriksson beat the Colorado netminder with patient precision.
Vejmelka was a particularly vexing thorn in the side of Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, who had scored a goal in five straight and six of his last seven games. He led all skaters with seven shots on goal. It was just the sixth time this season the Avalanche failed to score more than one goal, as they host the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames on Saturday night.