The Colorado Avalanche traveled to Madison Square Garden Tuesday night (Oct. 25) to take on the New York Rangers in what many early prognosticators think could be a preview of the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams came into the game with identical 3-2-1 records, both with unexpected losses to weaker teams, and both with similar goals for and goals against stats.
The game was played at a blistering pace with aggressive forechecks on both sides of the ice. There were 90 total shots on goal in the contest, and the Avalanche survived a penalty late in overtime—a hooking call on Nathan MacKinnon—to force a shootout. They prevailed when Evan Rodrigues, the fourth shooter for Colorado, essentially crashed Igor Shesterkin’s net with what would become the game-winner. The Avalanche took the two points in the standings with a 3-2 victory. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Money on the Board Against Former Teammates
Alexandar Georgiev, starting in goal for the Avalanche, spent the previous five seasons with the Rangers. After requesting a trade, he was acquired by Colorado in July for two third-round picks (2022 and 2023) and one fifth-round pick (2022). Georgiev, who had served as the backup goaltender to Shesterkin, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, wanted a chance to be the starter. That’s exactly what he got when the Avalanche signed the Bulgarian-born netminder to a three-year, $10.2 million contract, elevating him to the top spot.
With Georgiev making his first appearance at the Garden in something other than a Rangers sweater, he reportedly put money on the board, adding incentive for his team to win the game. If you’re not familiar with the term “money on the board,” NHL players will often write a dollar amount on the whiteboard in the locker room before a game. The money, if paid, goes towards team dinners and parties, but sometimes to charity as well. According to ESPN commentators during the nationally broadcast game, Georgiev put enough money on the board to treat the entire team to dinner.
Both goaltenders were nothing short of brilliant. Shesterkin stopped 42 of 44 shots, which was bested by Georgiev’s 44 saves on 46 shots. There were a plethora of spectacular saves at both ends of the ice, with each goalie keeping his team in the game time and time again.
It wasn’t until the shootout that Georgiev finally prevailed, stopping one more shot than his former teammate. Georgiev used his right pad to stop the final attempt, a low forehand from Alexis Lafrenière, to seal the victory. While the team made good on Georgiev’s money on the board incentive, truth be told, the Avalanche should be buying their new goaltender dinner, not the other way around.
Avalanche’s Short-Handed Magic
Colorado scored its third short-handed goal in seven games this season, which is good enough for second-best in the league, trailing only the Chicago Blackhawks. The play developed slowly as Shesterkin came out of his net to play an iced puck in the corner. A charging Andrew Cogliano used a strong forecheck to cause the Rangers goaltender to misplay the puck; it was Shesterkin’s only real mistake of the evening. Cogliano found the biscuit and shoveled it across the ice to Logan O’Connor, who beat Shesterkin on his glove side.
The Avalanche had six short-handed goals all of last season, with O’Connor notching one goal and three assists in that effort. With the goal against the Rangers, O’Connor now has one short-handed goal and one short-handed assist in the first seven games and is proving himself to be an indispensable part of the Avalanche penalty kill.
Nichushkin Keeps on Rolling
The first goal of the game came on the power play off the stick of Valeri Nichushkin. He deflected a Cale Makar wrist shot, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. It was Nichushkin’s seventh goal in seven games, and his fifth power play goal. The physically imposing forward now has 12 points on the young season.
As of this writing, Nichushkin’s seven goals and 12 points are tied for best in the league with three other players: Jesper Brett (New Jersey Devils), Artemi Panarin (Rangers), and David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins). While it’s a futile exercise this early in the season, it’s still fun to project that each of these players is on a pace to score 82 goals and 141 points.
Nichushkin, already well-established as a strong defensive forward, is now establishing himself as an elite scoring threat as well. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a player who went 57 games in the 2018-19 season, as a member of the Dallas Stars, without scoring a single goal and notching only 10 assists. His elevated level of play is helping make up for the absence of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who is sidelined until the new year recovering from knee surgery.
Up Next for the Avalanche
The Avalanche will stay on the East Coast taking on the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, and the New York Islanders on Saturday. It will be their third set of back-to-back games in as many weeks.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.