The Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators both entered Thursday’s contest on five-game winning streaks. COVID-19 crippled both teams just before the contest started, but the Predators rode a hot start and a solid finish to score a 5-2 victory over the Avs.
Filip Forsberg had two goals and an assist in the win, as both teams were playing short-handed. The Predators didn’t have the services of seven players and five coaches. Colorado was without five players – four of which landed in COVID-19 protocol just before the game. Those four were all major contributors so far this season in Cale Makar, Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Compher, and Darcy Kuemper – who was slated to start in goal before being sidelined. The Avs played with just 16 skaters in the loss.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s defeat:
Rantanen Shines For Avs
There was a lot of talk about who was missing, but Mikko Rantanen continued to show up big for Colorado. The standout forward had a hand in both Colorado goals, tallying a goal and an assist. His goal in the second period was his fourth this season against the Predators. He racked up three goals and an assist against Nashville back on Nov. 27.
After the Predators jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Rantanen cut the lead in half midway through the second period, burying a rebound of a Nathan MacKinnon shot for the goal. It gave Rantanen 14 goals on the season, pushing him one past Makar for the team lead. MacKinnon’s assist extended his point streak to nine games, while Rantanen is riding a six-game point streak.
Rantanen has played in 25 of Colorado’s 27 games this season and has failed to register a point in just six of those contests. He has four goals and seven assists during the current point streak, which is his longest of the season. The Avalanche had won eight straight games in which he scored before snapping that streak on Thursday.
Nichushkin Quietly Having Big Season
Valeri Nichushkin brings a lot to the table for the Avalanche, it’s just that consistent scoring hasn’t been on that list. He’s changing that narrative this year. He scored his 10th of the season on Thursday, smashing in a great feed from Rantanen midway through the third. Nichushkin’s goal trimmed the Predators’ lead to 3-2, but Nashville scored the game’s final two goals to put away the win.
Barring any more extended periods of missed time, Nichushkin is primed for a career year. In his seventh NHL season, Nichushkin’s 10 goals are equal to or greater than his goal totals in all but two of his previous six campaigns. Thursday’s contest was just his 18th game of the season. His career-high for goals is 14 – which came in his rookie season with the Dallas Stars in 2013-14. His 34 points that season was also a career-high.
This is Nichuskin’s third season in Colorado. He scored 13 goals in 2019-20 and 10 goals last season. He will almost certainly blow those numbers out of the water – especially if his recent for continues. He has three goals in his last two games, as he also scored a pair of goals against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. He has four goals in his last six games.
Francouz Gets Back Out There
He wasn’t expecting to get the start, but for the first time in almost two years, Pavel Francouz found himself between the pipes for the Colorado Avalanche. Thanks to various injuries and surgeries, the goaltender hadn’t played since March 11, 2020. It might not have been the result he and the Avalanche were looking for, but just having Francouz out there felt like a win.
Francouz stopped 30 of the 34 shots he faced on Thursday, and half of the goals he allowed came with the Predators on the power play. He had to make 15 saves in the second period alone. The Predators took charge in the middle stanza, outshooting Colorado 17-3 while taking a 3-1 lead into the third. Despite the loss, his return was a good sign for a Colorado team that has been plagued by a lack of depth at the position for the past few seasons.
At age 31, Francouz was a little bit of a late bloomer. He didn’t get his first NHL start until the 2019-20 campaign but was very sharp for the Avalanche that season. He was 21-7-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average, and his .923 save percentage was fifth-best in the NHL. A pair of hip surgeries sidelined him all of last season, and he was expected to be Kuemper’s backup going into 2021-22. It was a long road back, especially when an ankle injury in a preseason game knocked him out again. Putting Thursday’s loss aside, if Francouz can return to his similar form from 2019-20, it should help the Avs in the long run. Colorado returns home to host the Tampa Bay Lightning 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.