The Colorado Avalanche returned to Ball Arena after going 3-1-0 out west. During that trip, the team first lost Cale Makar to injury, then Bowen Byram, and then finally Nathan MacKinnon, the latter of which went down because of a scary shot to the jaw. That’s not to mention Matt Calvert, Erik Johnson, and Pavel Francouz, who continue to be sidelined.
All that’s to say, the Avalanche started Friday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks in a less than ideal state. Things didn’t remedy quickly, either. Nazem Kadri had a goal disallowed in the first period after batting it out of the air with a high stick, and then Tyson Jost’s and Ryan Graves’ gaffes in the defensive zone opened up Adam Henrique in the slot to put the Ducks up 1-0 in the opening frame’s dying seconds. The second didn’t start much better, as Jakob Silfverberg’s shot deflected off of Jost’s stick into the top corner of the net, putting the home team down 2-0. That goal, by the way, came on the heels of Valeri Nichushkin slamming the puck off of two posts.
With the Ducks still pressing, the shorthanded Avalanche looked like they were going to let a winnable game slip away. But the game was just getting started.
Good teams find ways to win games under any given circumstances, and a good Avalanche team found a way to win on Friday night, scoring three straight goals to beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime. Nichushkin tallied twice, including the overtime winner, Brandon Saad had three points, and Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves to lead Colorado to their first multi-goal comeback win since Oct. 18, 2019, against the Florida Panthers. Here’s what we learned:
Nichushkin Goes Nuclear
Colorado has played two games this season without MacKinnon, and Nichushkin has scored three of his four goals in those contests. Against the Ducks, he notched seven shots on goal, a career high, and played with a noticeable edge throughout the affair. His first goal came as an Avalanche power play expired, as he got just enough of Joonas Donskoi’s pass to flutter the puck past Ducks’ goalie John Gibson. But that effort was dwarfed by his goal in overtime, during which he displayed the speed and strength necessary to be a great power forward in the NHL.
“Big Val” hadn’t scored in a month, but he chose a good time to break his slump. While defensive play is much more of his forte, if he can begin to be more consistent in the offensive zone, he could play a big role for the Avalanche in the upcoming months. With MacKinnon expected to miss more time, it may be the push he needs.
During Jared Bednar’s first season as Avalanche coach, he lamented the presence of “passengers” on his squads. Those being players just coasting through the season, often going invisible during a year where Colorado finished last in the league. Since then, the roster has been molded to contain skaters who can be impactful in different ways every single night. That was evident Friday night.
With a quarter of the roster sidelined, the Avalanche were still the better team against the Ducks. Despite Gabriel Landeskog (Congrats, Gabe!) and Mikko Rantanen going pointless, the depth guys pulled enough weight to earn the two points. That includes Nichushkin, but is far from exclusive to him.
Saad ended his scoring drought with three points, notching the game-tying goal by fighting to the net to poke the loose puck home. On Nichushkin’s first tally, Saad made a great play at the top of the zone to keep the puck in as the power play expired and the Ducks tried to clear.
The reason the Avalanche had that momentum-shifting power play is due to their fourth line. Kiefer Sherwood, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Logan O’Connor were cycling around the Ducks’ net, keeping the puck in and forechecking hard until O’Connor drew a holding penalty on Cam Fowler. They forechecked well throughout the game, an aspect of the game Colorado is often maligned for.
Devon Toews and Samuel Girard were a sturdy top pairing of defensemen once again. But they received great help from from the rest of the defensive lineup. Conor Timmins played one of his best games of the season, while Jacob MacDonald continued his impressive stretch of games. Even Dan Renouf was solid, bringing physicality and breaking up several Ducks chances. Graves was the only one who struggled, an unfortunately common trend for the young defenseman these days.
It took a “no passenger” effort to get the job done against Anaheim, and sure enough, that job was completed. But there’s one other player that was a major difference maker on Friday.
Jost on the Brink
Full credit to my colleague, Kerry Collins, who told me before the game to watch Jost. The young center took on the 2C role in MacKinnon’s absence, and had a high-event evening, to say the least. As already mentioned, he failed to clear the puck at the end of the first, indirectly causing Anaheim to strike first. Then, he was had the misfortune of perfectly redirecting Silfverberg’s shot to double his squad’s deficit. None of that was optimal for Jost.
But man, he did a lot of things right. He brought a full effort on every shift, creating chances and winning puck battles. He assisted on Saad’s goal, playing the puck perfectly into the crease, where Saad could finish the job. He was inches away from another, on a similar play where Donskoi was barely stopped from poking the idle puck home to put the Avs up in the third.
On that play, Jost was sitting right in front of Gibson, acting as a perfect screen to set up the opportunity. The oft-polarizing center is carving out his role on this Avalanche squad, first proving the value he brings to the best penalty-kill unit in the NHL and now showing that he can be impactful in a larger offensive role. He’ll have the chance to prove it again tonight, as Colorado and Anaheim meet for round two.
If it’s anything like its predecessor, it’s going to be a wild affair. We’ll see who steps up to the moment.
Avery is a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. He is graduating in April with a B.A. in English and Mass Communication. He has previously worked for The Puck Authority covering the Rapid City Rush and for NGU Vision Media as their News Editor. He is a board game enthusiast and enjoys spending time with others.