Missing players have caused Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar to get creative with his lines, but he might be on to something with Brandon Saad, Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi.
After starting the game on the top line, Saad was bumped down to the second line with Kadri and Donskoi midway through the second period. The combo worked, as Saad scored in the second and Kadri scored the game-winner in the final minute of play to give Colorado a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Donskoi assisted on both goals.
Coming into Tuesday’s contest, the combination of Saad, Kadri, and Donskoi had been used sparingly – logging just under 11 minutes of ice time together across only eight games season. But despite the limited time, Tuesday’s goals were the trio’s third and fourth of the season when playing together.
Saad’s goal gave Colorado a 2-1 lead late in the second, but a wild goal from Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault tied it up 6:52 into the third. That set up Kadri’s heroics, and gave the Avalanche a big two points on the road. The Golden Knights (10-3-1) still lead the West Division, but Colorado (8-4-1) is just four points behind. A loss would have doubled that deficit.
The goal was Saad’s sixth of the season, putting him one behind Mikko Rantanen for the team lead. The goal was Kadri’s fourth of the season, and was his first since scoring two in a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 28.
While the fledgling combination found the back of the net again, the Avalanche also got a goal from a more familiar source – even if it had been awhile.
Nathan MacKinnon got back on track, netting a goal in the first period. It was his third of the season but first since Jan. 21. The first-period tally snapped a seven-game stretch without a goal for MacKinnon, and was also the first goal Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury allowed in the first period all season. Mackinnon still leads the Avalanche in points with 15 behind 12 assists.
Grubauer Stays Sharp for Avs
Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer continued his sparkling play, stopping 27 shots in the win. He gave up two goals, but one came on the power play, and Marchessault’s came after a wild scramble in front of the net.
But he was big when he had to be. He stopped a flurry of shots in the second period, making 11 saves in that frame.
If it weren’t for Max Pacioretty, Vegas would have been lost against Grubauer. The Avs’ netminder has allowed just three goals in the last two games, and Pacioretty has two. Pacioretty scored the lone goal in the Golden Knights’ 1-0 win on Sunday, and he broke through for Vegas on the power play in the second period on Tuesday with a nearly identical goal.
The Avalanche were outshot 29-25 in the game, and moved to 3-1-1 when getting outshot by opponents this season. Grubauer has been on the ice for all three of those wins, and didn’t play in either of the losses.
These last two games have been especially sharp for Grubauer, considering three of Colorado’s top defensemen were watching in street clothes. Cale Makar, Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson all missed the pair of games in Las Vegas due to injury or COVID-19 protocol.
The Avalanche will play the Golden Knights in their next two contests. Colorado will be the home team for both, but only one will be in Denver. The Avs play Vegas on Saturday in Lake Tahoe and will wrap up the four-game set on Monday at Ball Arena.
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.