The Colorado Avalanche made their first trip to Long Island since Jan. 2020, and their first-ever trip to the brand new UBS Arena at Belmont Park, where they survived a late charge by the New York Islanders, to notch a 5-4 victory and stop a two-game losing streak. The teams were tied 1-1 entering the third period when Colorado unloaded with four goals in four minutes and 21 seconds. It appeared as if the game was over, but New York did not go quietly into the night.
The Islanders scored two goals in 90 seconds to cut the lead to 5-3. Then, with their net empty and an extra skater on the ice, forward Brock Nelson scored his 21st goal of the season at 19:33 to bring New York within one. Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who kept his net empty, watched as his team won the faceoff and gained the zone. Nelson got two more shots off, both of them blocked before the final horn sounded.
Overall the Avalanche outshot the Islanders, 49 to 36. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Avalanche Power Play Starting to Wake Up
While Colorado was officially 1-3 on the power play, the team’s second goal came five seconds after a hooking penalty on Islander defenseman, Sebastian Aho had expired. The Avalanche had sustained pressure in New York’s zone, putting the defense, including goaltender Semyon Varlamov, back on its heels, before Nathan MacKinnon found the net for his 18th goal of the season, and ninth goal in his last 10 games. He had nine shots on goal (SOG) in the contest and added an assist for a three-point night. By the time Aho was out of the box and able to join the play, it was simply too late.
Colorado also scored on its first power play of the game. MacKinnon hustled to keep the puck in the zone, dished it to Nazem Kadri, who passed cross-ice to Cale Makar, who beat Varlamov on his glove side. After only scoring two power-play goals in their previous 12 games, Colorado has scored with the man advantage in each of its last two contests, and that doesn’t include the MacKinnon goal mentioned above. To keep the pressure on the rest of the Western Conference, the Avalanche will need to keep their power play hot.
Colorado’s Defensive Juggernaut
Makar added a second goal in the third period, and Devon Toews, his partner, scored what turned out to be the game-winner. For Makar, the goals were his 19th and 20th of the year and his first since Jan. 28. He leads all defensemen in goals and points scored (63) and continues to make a strong case for Norris Trophy consideration. Makar added an assist on the evening; it was his 12th consecutive game with at least one point, a franchise record, and the fourth time this year with three points in a game. To put his season in perspective, he would be the leading scorer on 24 of the 32 NHL teams.
For Toews, it was his 12th goal of the season, which is good for fifth among all defensemen. He also leads all skaters with a plus/minus of plus-45.
The three goals against the Islanders bring the total for Avalanche defenseman this season to 50, which leads all teams. The next closest team, the Florida Panthers, has 33 goals from its defense.
Avalanche Defensive Lapses
Toews’ goal came with 11:33 left in the contest. From that point on, Colorado allowed the Islanders to take 24 shots, 14 of them making it to the net. New York had 18 shots on goal in the third period, accounting for half of the team’s total in the game. The Avalanche also gave the puck away three times down the stretch, one of which resulted in an Islander goal. Colorado needs to consider shoring up its defense in advance of the March 21 Trade Deadline.
While defenseman Sam Girard has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, the current campaign has been lackluster at best. The Roberval, Quebec native has only two points (both assists) in his last 15 games, skating to a plus-2 rating over that same stretch. At only 5-foot-10, his brand of hockey is finesse rather than strength. On a team loaded with finesse players, Girard may no longer be the right fit.
With the trade deadline looming, Joe Sakic, the Avalanche’s executive vice president and general manager, should consider moving Girard’s contract, which, at an average annual value of $5 million, will free up cap space to acquire the one or two pieces Colorado needs to ensure a deep run in the playoffs.
Challenging Upcoming Schedule for the Avalanche
The Avalanche will play the second of a back-to-back against the Devils in New Jersey tonight. After that, five of the next six teams Colorado will face are playoff contenders.
The Avalanche will play the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh this Thursday before returning home to play the Calgary Flames this Sunday. The following week they’ll take on the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. It will be the toughest stretch of games since the start of the season and will be a real test for this Avalanche squad.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.