Scoring from the Colorado Avalanche defensemen is getting ridiculous.
Erik Johnson scored two goals, and Cale Makar scored a scintillating game winner in overtime to set up Colorado for a 4-3 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Alex Debrincat scored two power-play goals just 40 seconds apart in the third, but the Avalanche were able to force overtime before ultimately winning the game.
Makar’s game-winner was spectacular, as he torched Chicago’s Kirby Dach with a quick stop at the left circle before netting the game-winner into the top shelf on a backhand. Colorado moved to 12-0 this season when leading after the second period.
Below are three takeaways from Tuesday’s overtime victory.
Johnson Delivers For Avalanche
Colorado is the highest scoring team in the NHL, but it still gets a surprise every once in a while from unexpected sources. Johnson scored two goals in a game for just the second time in his career, with the last coming on Dec. 13, 2014. One got the scoring started in the first period, and the other bailed out Avalanche in the third. Together the tallies gave him five goals on the year, which is the most in a season since he scored seven in 2018-19.
Johnson got the scoring started for the Avalanche, notching his fourth goal of the season on a rip from the point. He had gone six games without a goal, with his last coming on Dec. 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers, and that win against Philadelphia was also his last multi-point game. His biggest contribution this season has been consistency, as the veteran defenseman has played in all 29 games for Colorado this season.
Johnson will never be confused with Ray Bourque in the offensive end, but they needed him on Tuesday. After opening a two-goal lead through the first 20 minutes, Colorado went on cruise control and fell behind 3-2 early in the third thanks to Debrincat’s surge on the power-play. But Johnson struck again with a seeing-eye shot from a tough angle midway through the frame. He now has as more goals this season as he had games played in the last campaign.
MacKinnon Goal Struggles Persist
Before this season started, no one would have bet that Johnson would have more goals than Nathan MacKinnon in the first week of the new year. However, MacKinnon is sitting on just three goals for the campaign, and his struggles finding the back of the net continued on Tuesday in Chicago.
MacKinnon is still contributing, as his 24 assists are second on the team. He’s also tied for fourth on the team in points with 27. But the lack of goals is starting to get astonishing. A whopping 14 Avalanche players have more goals than MacKinnon, but the Avs star has not gone back-to-back games without a point this season. After missing all but two games in November with a lower-body injury, MacKinnon returned on Dec. 1 with two assists in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has at least one point in every game since returning, racking up two goals and 15 helpers over the next 10 contests. That point streak was snapped on Tuesday.
The fewest goals MacKinnon has scored in a season is 14, all the way back in 2014-15 when he was a bright-eyed 19-year-old in his second season. Since then, he’s failed to score 20 goals just once (16 goals in 2016-17), and has finished top 10 in the NHL in goals three times. Injuries and illness have cost him 10 games this season, but MacKinnon is still third on the team in shots on goal, trailing only Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri – who are team’s top two scorers.
Awful Penalty Kill Returns For Avalanche
A typical foe came back to sting the Avalanche in the third period on Tuesday, as their woes on the penalty kill cost them a road victory. The Avs entered Tuesday’s game ranked 28th in the NHL in the penalty kill at 75 percent. The gave up two on three tries on Tuesday.
After taking just one penalty through the first 40 minutes, Colorado took a pair of penalties just 55 seconds apart early in the third. Debrincat made them pay with his first goal just before the 5-on-3 advantage expired, and then he scored again just 40 seconds later. The second goal was almost the same as the first, coming on a one-timer off a Patrick Kane pass.
As spectacular as the Avs offense has been, it’s covering up a glaring weakness in the penalty kill. Colorado has won seven of its last eight games, but opponents have scored on nearly a third of their power-play opportunities against the Avs (9-for-28) during that span. Colorado has the eighth best power-play in the NHL (24.1 percent), but the mess of a penalty kill will need to be cleaned up if the Avalanche expect any type of playoff run.
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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.