The offensive depth of the Colorado Avalanche was on full display Saturday, as 10 different players registered a point in a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The win pushed their season-long road winning streak to seven games, as Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen each tallied a goal and an assist. The Sabres got the first career hat trick from Tage Thompson, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Colorado’s three-goal first period and two-goal third. Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s win.
First Period Frenzy
Despite the early start time, there wasn’t anything sluggish about how both teams got out of the gates. Thompson opened the scoring just 2:50 into the game, but MacKinnon’s 11th of the season tied it up just 45 seconds later. The quick equalizer was a good omen for the Avalanche, who have struggled on the road when giving up the first goal. The Avalanche are now just 3-6-1 when giving up the opening goal on the road – a stark contrast from their 12-0-1 record when scoring first away from Denver.
Seven different Avalanche players tallied a point in the first period, and MacKinnon could have had more than just the single tally. He was denied by the post once in the period, and an early whistle was blown with the puck still loose, just moments before he slammed in what would have been his second of the game. MacKinnon is on a roll since returning from injury, totaling two goals and three assists in his four last four contests. It was also his 12th multi-point game of the season.
Thompson’s first goal also snapped Darcy Kuemper’s streak of 146:56 without giving up a goal. He had shutouts in his previous two starts. The Avs took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission after J.T. Compher and Nazem Kadri sandwiched goals around Thompson’s second of the game – with all three of those coming just 1:46 apart. It was Kadri’s 21st of the season and came off a great assist from Valeri Nichushkin.
Compher Kicks Rough Patch
There were a lot of goals scored by the Avalanche on Saturday, but none were more important than their second of the game. Compher had been in a long funk before banging home the rebound, having gone without a point in six straight games. He had only two points over his previous 10 games – and both of those happened the same night when he tallied a goal and an assist in a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 28.
Compher got off to a solid start this season, racking up five goals and four assists through the first nine games of the campaign. It’s been pretty slim pickings since then, however. Since that start, he’s managed points in back-to-back games just once and totaled just three goals and four assists over the next 27 contests. It didn’t help that he missed roughly a month due to an upper-body injury in November.
That injury slowed down what looked like might be a career year for Compher. His career-high in goals (16) and points (32) came in 2018-19, with a career-best 20 assists coming the following season. There’s still plenty of time for him to eclipse those marks, and Saturday’s game was a step in the right direction. He has nine goals and 17 points with 33 games remaining, so that career year is still in striking distance if he can stay away from those extended slumps.
Rantanen Back on Track
Rantanen was held without a point in both games against the Dallas Stars last week. It was only two games, but that counts as a slump for him this season. It was only the third time this season – once back in October and the other in early January – that Rantanen was held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games. Now Rantanen goals in back-to-back games, after tallying a goal and an assist on Saturday.
After Alex Newhook gave Colorado the lead midway through the third, Rantanen’s empty-netter capped off the victory and gave him 26 goals for the season. Like seemingly everybody on the Avalanche’s roster, the 25-year-old winger is on pace for a career-high in goals – he’s just five away from his career-high of 31 set in 2018-19. Those numbers have come from the Avalanche leaning on him more. MacKinnon hasn’t been scoring the goals at his usual rate, but Rantanen has ramped up his chances. He’s taken 167 shots this season, which is on pace to surpass his career-high of 193 set in that high-scoring 2018-19 campaign.
Only the Florida Panthers (203) have scored more goals than the Avalanche (198) this season, and no one else is even close; the next closest team is the Minnesota Wild with 176. Rantanen has been a big part of that, as his 26 goals are tops on the team, and his 57 points only trail Kadri’s 63. Saturday’s win puts the Avalanche at 2-0 on the current four-game road trip. They take on the Boston Bruins on Monday and the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday to close out the trip.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.