The Colorado Avalanche have a reputation for scoring goals, but their defense is turning into a calling card, as well. Darcy Kuemper picked up his second consecutive shutout as the Avs rolled past the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 on Tuesday. Mikko Rantanen and Valeri Nichushkin each had a goal and assist in the victory. Nathan MacKinnon added an assist, giving him at least a point in 14 of Colorado’s last 15 games.
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s win:
Kuemper Sparkles Again
For the second time in as many games, Kuemper locked down a shutout for the Avalanche – both by identical 3-0 scores. But he wasn’t nearly as busy in Tuesday’s effort as he was this past weekend against the Calgary Flames. Kuemper needed just 23 stops against the Kings on Tuesday – exactly half as many as he needed against Calgary. It was his fifth shutout of the season, and he’s only allowed one goal in his last three starts.
Kuemper was also one of Colorado’s best penalty killers, making six stops with the Kings skating with the man advantage. The Kings went 0-for-4 on the power play, while Colorado was 2-for-3. His biggest save came on a short-handed breakaway by Anze Kopitar, brushing aside the shot. The Avs wound up scoring on that power play, getting a goal from J.T. Compher.
This has been a banner year for Kuemper, who was brought in after Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer left for the Seattle Kraken in free agency. Colorado responded by trading for Kuemper that same day, and he’s been solid all season. He’s already posted a career-high in wins, and Tuesday’s shutout tied his career-high as well. Kuemper also had five shutouts in 2017-18 when he was with the Arizona Coyotes.
Nichushkin Fits Right In
Nichushkin isn’t the biggest offensive threat on the Avalanche, but he can fit in just about anywhere in the lineup for head coach Jared Bednar. With captain Gabriel Landeskog sidelined indefinitely following knee surgery, Nichushkin was slotted into the top line on Tuesday and didn’t miss a beat. He tallied a goal and an assist in the victory and wound up playing more minutes than everybody except for Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
The goal started the scoring, coming off a great pass from Mikko Rantanen and was the 15th of the season for Nichushkin, which is now a career-high. He had 14 last season, and in his rookie season back in 2013-14. With 33 points on the season, he’s just one away from matching his career mark of 34 which was also set in that rookie campaign. A Nichuskin goal has also been a good indicator for success this season. With Tuesday’s win, Colorado moved to 13-1 when he lights the lamp.
Nichushkin had been in something of a scoring funk before being placed on the top line. He had had only one goal since Feb. 10 and hadn’t scored a point in four games before Tuesday. He had only three power-play points on the season entering Tuesday’s game but had two power-play points in the win. The first-period goal was just his first power-play goal since Jan. 22, and he also assisted on Compher’s power-play strike in the second.
Assists Keep Coming
The Avalanche have the best record in the NHL and are the league’s highest-scoring team. But they’re hitting levels of unselfishness that no other team in the league is even coming close to. They are the only NHL team with four players – Nazem Kadri, Makar, Rantanen and MacKinnon – in the top 20 in assists. No other team has more than two skaters on that list.
The prettiest assist came from Rantanen, setting up Nichushkin’s first goal. However, Rantanen also had a hand in setting up his 29th goal of the season, converting a pretty give-and-go with Andre Burakovsky to put the game away in the third period. It was Colorado’s only even-strength goal of the night.
Makar, Rantanen and MacKinnon all notched assists on Tuesday, and all of them have at least 42 on the campaign. Makar now has 45 helpers and is notoriously in the midst of a career year with assists. His previous career-high was 38. He’s currently fourth amongst NHL defensemen in assists, but his 66 points are tied with Nashville Predators star Roman Josi for most points by a blueliner.
With five assists on Tuesday, the Avalanche have 399 on the season, putting them on pace for 536. Colorado’s team record for assists in a season was 542 set in 1995-96. Only eight teams in the last 20 seasons have had more than 500 in a single campaign. The last to do it was the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning with 547. Colorado has won two in a row and will look to keep rolling against the San Jose Sharks on Friday in California.
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.