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.
MacKinnon Beats Bobrovsky in OT
Nathan MacKinnon has made a not-so-subtle climb to become one of the Avalanche’s deadliest offensive weapons. This is no surprise to Avalanche staff or their fans, with MacKinnon winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in the 2013-14 season. Six seasons later, and MacKinnon is still demonstrating his game-changing prowess on a nightly basis.
MacKinnon’s overtime game-winner against the Florida Panthers last Friday was just the latest example of his ability to spell the difference between victory and defeat for the Avalanche. For me, it was another bittersweet reminder of a December morning back in 2010 in Faribault, MN. After suffering a 9-0 defeat at the hands of MacKinnon and his Shattuck-St. Mary’s U16 team the night prior, my team (Omaha AAA) had managed to rebound and were sitting at a 3-3 tie in the waning minutes of the game.
Capitalizing on a defensive misstep, MacKinnon grabbed the puck at our blue line, fired off a shot, and scored top-shelf glove side. Shattuck won the game 4-3, and would go on to a 49-4-1 record and first-place national ranking at the U16 AAA level while Omaha finished 19th at 35-23-1. MacKinnon’s OT goal on Friday gave me some vivid flashbacks since the shot and goal were almost exactly the same.
A large part of the success on this play should be credited to Andre Burakovsky and his ability to draw both Panthers’ defenders towards him, giving MacKinnon an abundance of time and space. Another key element here is how MacKinnon enters the zone. In most cases, the second forward on an offensive rush is supposed to crash the net. However, MacKinnon recognizes that both Panthers’ defenders are playing back and drifting toward Burakovsky, so he decides to delay his entry, thus giving himself time and space to make a play.
In the final stages of the goal sequence, MacKinnon relies on some tried and true shooting principles. First, he uses Aaron Ekblad (#5) as a screen to conceal the initial release of his shot. That gives Panthers’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky less time to react. Next, MacKinnon uses a snapshot which changes the angle and trajectory of his shot just before release. Combined, these factors translate to Bobrovsky not being entirely set on a correct angle and also having diminished reaction time due to the screen. Bottom line, his glove isn’t quite where it need to be, and MacKinnon scores.
Francouz’s 2019-20 Debut
After a hot start to the 2019-20 season, Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer proved to fans and critics alike that he’s as good a starter as any in the NHL. That left only one question surrounding the Avalanche’s off-season maneuvers – how good is Pavel Francouz?
Much like his partner, Francouz has so far answered the bell in two starts thus far in the 2019-20 season. In just two games, Francouz has turned away 78 of 82 shots for two wins and a 1.95 goals against average. After posting a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes to closeout the initial Avalanche home-stand, Francouz was again equal to the task a week later on the road against the talent-laden Tampa Bay Lightning.
Francouz played outstanding against the Lightning, and while there were a couple of highlight-reel saves where he relied upon superb flexibility and reflexes, much of Francouz’s success boiled down to his angles and aggressiveness in attacking each shot. In a majority of the saves featured in the above game highlights, Francouz is at the edge of his crease, challenging the shooter.
By moving towards the oncoming shot, Francouz minimizes visible holes from the shooter’s perspective. In rebound scenarios, it also reduces time and space for opposing forwards to chip in a second or third shot as it will likely get swallowed up in the goalie’s pads or glove. In any case, challenging shooters is a mark of confidence in a goalie, and shows that Francouz is more than ready to assume NHL net-minding responsibilities.
In the two goals against, Francouz can be seen still aggressively challenging the shot. However, in the first goal he’s being screened and is unable to move laterally quick enough to block the shot. In the second shot, Francouz again takes a great angle, but a well-timed tip from Lightning forward Victor Hedman changes the shot path with practically no time for Francouz to react accordingly.
The Avalanche have plenty to be excited about moving forward this season, and if this past week has been any indicator, there will be plenty more highlight plays to breakdown here on the Avs Weekly Whiteboard!