Hey there, Colorado Avalanche fans, I’m starting a new weekly piece as we move through the 2019-20 season called “Avs Weekly Whiteboard.”
Each week, I’ll highlight some of the big plays (positive or negative) that garnered attention from the week’s slate of games. Topics of discussion may include, but are not limited to highlight-reel goals, defensive lapses, and perhaps even seemingly questionable roster or lineup changes. My hope is to use my experience as a player and a coach to give Avalanche fans insight into the mechanics behind those split-second plays or decisions that can make the difference between winning and losing a game.
Despite taking a look at Cale Makar’s first regular-season goal, last week ended on a bit of a sour note with sloppy defensive play factoring into the Avalanche’s losing streak. Since then, the Avs have snapped the streak and are back in the win column. First things first, let’s take a look at some of the injuries and line combo decisions during the brief slump before highlighting Joonas Donskoi’s first NHL hat trick!
Injuries and Linemates
After a dominant start within the first five games of the season, the Avalanche seemed to dodge a bullet with Nate MacKinnon remaining ambulatory after a questionable hit against the Penguins. Shortly after, the Avs were hit with flat-out bad luck between injuries to both Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Obviously injuries are a part of the game and can’t really be planned for in advance, but losing two-thirds of your top line makes a big impact.
One of the most challenging decisions to make as a coach is piecing together lines. And that challenge only increases when they are major changes to the status quo – such as injuries. Who do you move around? What will moving a certain player up to the top line say to the rest of the team? What lines are jelling already and shouldn’t be messed with? Those are just a handful of considerations that Jared Bednar, and his contemporaries across the NHL, have to account for on an almost daily basis.
This fact made it all the more interesting that Bednar initially decided to keep his third line of Matt Nieto, Matt Calvert, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare together in the immediate aftermath of Rantanen and Landeskog’s injuries. The trio has combined for 26 points thus far in 17 games, which is great production from a third line. Nieto, Calvert, and Bellemare are a hardnosed, but skilled, group that can effectively maintain possession in the offensive zone and also find the back of the net as well.
Whether they remain together for most of the season or not, Avs fans can only hope that they continue their offensive consistency through the ups and downs of a long NHL season. Speaking of ups, how about the Avalanche’s shellacking of the Nashville Predators last Thursday!?
Donskoi’s First Hat Trick
The Avalanche established a 2-1 lead after one period against the Predators. I imagine the feeling inside the Pepsi Center to have been one of cautious optimism with two periods left to play against a quality division rival. Nobody anticipated what happened in the second period – six goals in the span of about eight minutes! At the final horn, the Avalanche stood victorious with a 9-4 final score over the Predators.
While the win itself was a great accomplishment, it was a particularly special evening for one particular Avalanche player. Joonas Donskoi recorded his very first NHL hat trick in the thrashing of the Predators. Donskoi’s first goal tied the game back up in the second period, 3-3. It was also the start of the Avalanche’s six-goal barrage. Seizing a rebound off a MacKinnon shot, Donskoi spun around and beat a flailing Pekka Rinne low for his sixth goal of the season. Donskoi’s second goal ended the Avs’ second-period flurry with a redirect of an Erik Johnson shot.
Fittingly, Donskoi’s final goal was the last of the game – an almost breakaway solo effort to beat Predators’ backup, Juuse Saros. After picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Donskoi used some skillful stickhandling and a burst of speed to split the Predators’ defenders. He then had to power through their stick checks attempting to knock the puck away from him just prior to burying the puck behind Saros.
After a special, record night, the Avalanche followed up with a victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, so hopefully, this is a sign that they are back on track and over their slump. Rantanen and Landeskog’s return to the lineup will be welcome news, but we now have proof that the Avalanche can still put up plenty of goals in their absence.