When the team is healthiest is when the team is at its strongest. Saturday’s 6-0 victory to slow down a red-hot Minnesota Wild team corroborated that statement.
The Avs looked nearly flawless on all cylinders on Saturday, as they had in both of the games against the Wild. Following a statement win on Thursday, the Avs came out shooting again putting 42 shots on goal. This win might have marked a dramatic turning point in the Honda West Division. This victory ended Wild’s rookie goaltending sensation Kaapo Kahkonen’s nine-game winning streak and gave the Avs a season-high sixth straight game.
Here are the takeaways from the Avs big win.
Makar & Toews Terrific Tandem
A defense never gets enough credit when a team puts up a scoring performance as the Avs did. But the speedy drive and heads up by top defensemen Devon Toews and Cale Makar was a major factor in the team’s dominance. Toews tops all Avs players with 612 total minutes on ice, including a game leading 21:47. Makar meanwhile piloted the scoring party at 4:13 on a bomb shot from the point that ricocheted off the near side post.
This gave the Avs a 1-0 lead on their first power play. Makar, who along with Bowen Byram returned from upper-body injuries on Thursday according to the Denver Post, brought back the Avs scoring prowess on defense with his speed across the ice. (from ‘Cale Makar, Bo Byram return from injuries as Avalanche begins two-game set against Minnesota,’ Denver Post, 03/18/2021) He also assisted on the Avs’ second goal from captain Gabriel Landeskog. Toews scored as well at 18:47 in the second period. Both men came up with big blocks in big minutes with Toews leading defensemen with a +/- of 3. Having Makar back made for an even greater offensive storm threat. That storm struck on Saturday.
Is There Any Doubt About Grubauer Now?
Going into the season if there were any questions or doubts about skill in any part of the Avs roster, it was at the netminder position. Last year, Philipp Grubauer dealt with injuries, and questions remained going into this season on whether he was truly the franchise goaltender. Questions also arose about his stamina and ability to carry the team in a long stretch.
But Grubauer has done just that. He has won six straight games, allowed just two goals in his last five games, and has a league-leading five shutouts. He also had a once in a blue moon goaltender event happen when he tallied an assist on the Mikko Rantanen goal in the second.
Saturday’s game was the first time in 18 contests that the Avs allowed over 30 shots on goal. Not a problem when you have a wall in the goal like Grubauer. The 29-year-old netminder has lifted a heavy burden for the Avs, but he has help coming. Shortly before Saturday’s game, they acquired Jonas Johansson in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres according to ESPN. The Avs are hoping Johansson will supplement their goaltender depth behind Grubauer.
Magnificent MacKinnon Lives On
Everything about the Avs clicked in this game from their defense to the scoring depth. Thursday’s 5-1 victory saw the Avs leading goal scorer Mikko Rantanen in the spotlight posting two goals on two assists. While Rantanen has been on a scoring spree scoring goals in five straight games now, Nathan MacKinnon continues to be just as much of a factor in the top line’s success, as he always is.
The centerman is always presenting his line with huge scoring opportunities as he can speed the puck through the neutral zone like no other player. In these last three games, MacKinnon has seven points, most of which have come off assists. A star player like MacKinnon willing to contribute to the scoring, without being the first name remembered on the score sheet, shows something important about his character and passion for the team. With MacKinnon playing his best hockey, the team is also looking like their best.
Ben Rossi covers the Colorado Avalanche for THW. He can also be found writing and co-hosting the Exit Velo Podcast for the website BackSportsPage. For BackSportsPage he covers hockey, the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball news, and other sports stories that stretch beyond the playing field. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Denver where he covered the Denver Pioneers college hockey program as an undergraduate staff writer for the DU Clarion.