The Colorado Avalanche recorded a 7-5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, in a game that featured a seven-goal first period.
This is certainly a game, and a period of the season, that should be viewed with context. The Avalanche are 2-1-1 on their road trip, with one game to go. That may be a little less than what people expected from them, but they have had goaltending from their third and fourth-string guys so far on the trip.
Issues remain on the back end, but just like we saw last night, this team is good enough to outscore its problems in goal.
Here are the three main takeaways from the game in Philadelphia on Monday.
Makar’s Goal Scoring Pace
Cale Makar went the length of the ice to score his 11th goal of the season. The Avalanche have played 22 games, so are just over the quarter stage of the season, and Makar is on pace to score 40 goals this season.
Keeping that pace up is more than likely too much to ask, but 30 is certainly within reach. There have been 17 occasions when a defenseman has scored 30 goals during an NHL season, and those have been put together by nine different players.
Those low numbers show just how rare this is, and what an achievement it would be for Makar. Given how he is playing right now, it seems the only thing that can stop him from scoring 30 this season is an injury. If he remains healthy, we are going to see an incredible goal-scoring season from him.
He continues to be given the freedom to jump into the play and move around on the ice anywhere he wants, and part of the credit for his scoring has to go to Devon Toews for understanding how to play alongside Makar. After an injury kept him out at the start of the season, Toews has quietly been excellent alongside his partner, who is currently getting all the praise.
Brought in by general manager Joe Sakic in a trade for two second-round picks, Toews is an excellent player in his own right, but perhaps his real value comes by being the perfect partner for Makar.
Costly Defensive Errors While Playing Reserve Netminders
Overall, I don’t think the Avalanche have played too badly defensively on this road trip, minus the big loss to Toronto, and last night they were not awful for the full 60 minutes. However, they were certainly frustrating.
Individual errors in the defensive zone led to chances for Philadelphia all night, and while you never want this to happen, you certainly don’t want it when your fourth netminder is between the pipes. For a team with puck movement as one of its biggest strengths, we saw the Avs give up the puck and lose battles numerous times in the defensive zone.
It is a little unfair to go after the Avalanche defense when they are missing Bowen Byram and Ryan Murray, but the errors last night were really poor. Against a better opponent, such as the New York Rangers, who Colorado play on Wednesday night, these would have been highlighted even further, and potentially would have been more costly.
From what we’ve seen over the past week, Jonas Johansson and Justus Annunen are not NHL calibre goalies at this specific moment in time. They need all the help they can get, and while the Avalanche didn’t concede a huge number of shots against the Flyers, individual errors put more pressure on Annunen.
It was great to see Annunen pick up his first start, win and point in the same game, after winning the American Hockey League (AHL) goalie of the month award, but at the same time disappointing that the Avalanche made many individual errors in front of him.
MacKinnon Desperate for a Goal
There may not be a player in the entire NHL more frustrated than Nathan MacKinnon right now. Now back from his injury, he played his fourth game since that time off and he is still yet to score a goal.
The good news is that he’s bagged seven assists from those four games, so in terms of points scoring, he is back with a bang. However, you only need to look at his body language on the ice to see that he is desperate for a goal. This often ends with him trying too hard on a shift, and either holding onto the puck for too long and trying to do it all himself or taking a shot when a pass is the better option.
He had eight shots on goal last night and given the caliber of player he is, and the quality of his shot, a goal will come very soon. For now though, in order to remain calm and keep contributing in the best possible way for the team, MacKinnon needs to relax, stop putting pressure on himself and get out of this goal-scoring slump naturally.
The Avalanche round off their road trip with a game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night against the New York Rangers.
This game promises to be one that everyone will be talking about, with the Makar vs. Adam Fox angle, as two Norris Trophy contenders go head to head on the ice.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.