Nathan MacKinnon returned from injury and led the charge for the Colorado Avalanche, helping them overcome 44 saves from the Arizona Coyotes’ Antti Raanta to seize two critical points. The game teetered between heartbreak and elation for Colorado, who ravaged Arizona’s zone throughout the contest but struggled to solve Raanta.
Brandon Saad scored his ninth goal of the season just over a minute into the game, but the Ball Arena goal horn would go unattended 60+ minutes. The Coyotes only mustered 14 shots on goal, repeating their effort from two nights ago, but stayed in the game thanks to a Tyler Pitlick pass that deflected off of Tyson Jost and past Philipp Grubauer near the end of the 2nd period. The 1-1 deadlock remained until deep into overtime.
It took all night, but the Avs finally broke through. With less than a minute to go in OT, Samuel Girard sent a drop pass to Gabriel Landeskog, who cycled around the top of the zone and back into the slot. He then rifled the puck past Raanta, giving Colorado the win:
For a team that has struggled lately to get results from their strong play, it was a much-needed result. Here’s what stood out from Wednesday night:
Return of the MacK
MacKinnon returned to the lineup following a three-game absence. He immediately made his presence felt, tallying 10 shots on goal, his most since November 27, 2019, whilst generally being a force of destruction on the ice. To reiterate, the entire Coyotes team barely outshot MacKinnon 14-10.
Despite not notching a spot on the score sheet, the Avs’ superstar center exhibited just how valuable he is to the team. Colorado’s attack and transition were noticeably better than they were during his absence hence the 46-shot torrent they were able to produce. His return could herald better days ahead for the club.
As of March 11, the Honda West Division is as tight as ever. The Vegas Golden Knights currently lead the pack with 33 points but have lost two straight and are only one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues, two points ahead of the Minnesota Wild, and three ahead of the Avalanche. But none of them are in a secure playoff position, with the Los Angeles Kings and Coyotes sitting right behind them. With almost half of the season gone, very little has been decided.
The Kings, in particular, feel like a threat to break into the upper echelon of the division. They’ve received throwback performances from veterans like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty and some rejuvenation from younger players like Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo. While their depth and goaltending aren’t as solid as some other Western units (despite solid play from young goalie Cal Petersen), they have the talent to pull off wins on any given night. They’re certainly capable of breaking through, something Colorado needs to be wary of as the second half of the season approaches.
That’s not to mention the Coyotes, who, despite being less than spectacular in most statistical categories and routinely getting shellacked by the Avalanche, continue to inexplicably gain points. Essentially nothing is secure in the 2021 NHL season.
An Avalanche of Chances
Over their two-game series against Arizona, Colorado outshot their opponent 81-28. Overall, the Avalanche average 33.3 shots per game (3rd best in the league), while they hold their opponents to 25.2 per game (best in the league). They have consistently out possessed, outmaneuvered, and outplayed teams this season, yet sit ranked 16th in league standings and fourth in their division. After tallying several blowouts wins in the month of January, the Avs have had to inch and crawl their way to most of their wins since, as well as watch games they should’ve win slip away.
Some onlookers have begun to doubt Colorado’s ability to contend this season. But their process on the ice still attests to the opposite. They are one of the deepest teams in the league, as well as one of the most defensively sound. Come playoff time, that ability to possess the puck and minimize chances against will go along way for the club. Coach Jared Bednar has them playing in a system where guys can step up, despite injuries and setbacks, and play a solid game of hockey.
Frustrating days/weeks/months are going to happen in an NHL season. Right now, the Avalanche scoring goals feels like pulling teeth out of a jaguar. But they’re doing all the right things, and that should portend an offensive renaissance. Even if it doesn’t, Colorado has still collected 5 out of 8 points in a very arduous four-game stretch. They’re gonna be alright.
And with MacKinnon back, things might just get brighter and brighter.
Avery is a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. He is graduating in April with a B.A. in English and Mass Communication. He has previously worked for The Puck Authority covering the Rapid City Rush and for NGU Vision Media as their News Editor. He is a board game enthusiast and enjoys spending time with others.