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.
In last week’s Whiteboard, things were pretty positive with Nathan MacKinnon continuing his point streak with a beautiful OT winner over the Florida Panthers, and Pavel Francouz’s solid debut as the Avalanche’s de facto backup. This week does start with a positive (Cale Makar’s first NHL regular season goal), but I then dive into the negative a bit. Since last week’s Whiteboard, the Avalanche have one win and three losses. Their 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Ducks seemed to indicate a glaring trend in the Avs’ current skid.
Makar Nets First Regular Season Goal
Cale Makar made a splash with the Avalanche. Fresh off winning the 2019 Hobey Baker award and making a NCAA tournament appearance, Makar found himself signed and suited up for an Avalanche playoff game within a week. He went out in his NHL debut and scored his first goal to help lift the Avalanche over the Calgary Flames in last season’s opening Stanley Cup playoff round.
Now a permanent fixture on the Avalanche defensive corps, Makar continues to shine. In the video below, you can see how he takes advantage of a centering pass that slips by Gabriel Landeskog and buries it against the Golden Knights.
The play starts with J.T. Compher snagging a pass from MacKinnon and making a powerful move towards the Golden Knights’ net. Recognizing that he doesn’t have a great angle and is on his backhand, Compher attempts to find Landeskog who is crashing the net. However, the puck bounces off Vegas’ Jon Merrill (#15) who is tied up with Landeskog and prevents the Avalanche captain from making a play.
Fortunately, Makar reads the play and sneaks behind William Carrier (#28) of the Golden Knights to position himself in a way to bury Compher’s deflected pass. Carrier gets caught puck watching and none of the Golden Knights are able to react in time before Makar sends the puck over Fleury’s glove and into the net.
Unfortunately, the Golden Knights’ defensive miscues on Makar’s goal seem to have rubbed off on the Avalanche as the team has now lost three straight games after beating the Golden Knights.
Loss to Ducks Highlights Defensive Weaknesses
The loss to the Anaheim Ducks was the worst of this current stretch of three Avalanche losses, but the four non-empty net goals for the Ducks highlight a negative trend that has lingered in the following two losses.
In each of the four goals, there are glaring defensive breakdowns for the Avalanche. On the first goal, no one picked up Ducks’ Adam Henrique crashing the net from the far side. Mark Barberio and Andre Burakovsky picked up their man, but either Joonas Donskoi should’ve picked up Henrique on the backcheck or Erik Johnson should’ve stepped up sooner to break up the pass or eliminate Henrique’s time and space to shoot.
On the Ducks’ second goal, MacKinnon first took a bad angle in the neutral zone to try and break up the play which ultimately put him a step behind Carter Rowney. It also appears that MacKinnon got caught puck-watching and slowed down. To his credit, Rowney did a great job keeping his stick on the ice to tip the puck past Francouz.
For the Ducks’ third goal, I have to pick on “Big Z” — Nikita Zadorov. I get it, Ryan Getzlaf has a cannon, but that’s no excuse to not attack the shot head-on and block it as opposed to doing a weird spin to the side allowing the shot to get through and be directed past Francouz.
The fourth goal boiled down to the Avalanche not being aggressive enough in front of their own net. In a situation like that where the puck is thrown on net and there are multiple opposing players in front — any Ducks player should’ve been put on the ice or had their stick tied up at a minimum. Between Matt Calvert, Zadorov, and Ryan Graves, no one tied up Max Comtois’ stick and he made the Avalanche pay.
Puck-watching, not blocking shots effectively, and not playing aggressively in front of your own goalie may seem minor, but when you let more than one creep into your defensive-zone play, opposing teams will make you pay. Hopefully, the Avalanche can take some lessons learned and apply them to snap this losing streak before it goes on too long.
Stay tuned for next week where I plan to analyze coach Jared Bednar’s decision to keep the Calvert, Bellemare, and Nieto line together in the wake of injuries to Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.