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Avalanche Game 52 Plus/Minus: Nichushkin Not Himself, Byram Battles



Lightning Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche are giving away points.

And yet, the Western Conference is a disaster, so the Avalanche, even with just getting a point, are back in third place in the Central. It makes the Wednesday night game against Minnesota that much more important.

The game on Tuesday against the Lightning was a tremendous hockey game to watch…until it got to overtime. The Lightning snuck away with a 4-3 victory in the shootout, coming back from behind multiple times on the Avalanche.

As with every game, you take the good with the bad, so time to take a look at the pluses and the minuses in the game against the Lightning.

– Valeri Nichushkin’s Limitations

Great screen on the first goal of the game, but that’s about where it ends. It’s pretty clear just watching him that he doesn’t have the same burst he had last season.

Nichushkin took a maintenance day on Monday, and then skipped morning skate. The Avalanche say he’s fine, and they aren’t worried, but watching him on the ice, he doesn’t look like himself. The skating isn’t at the level we’ve come accustomed too, and he fumbled a number of passes on the evening.

I don’t know what the solution here is. The Avalanche clearly are better with him in the lineup than without, but I just can’t believe he’s 100% or even close to it. Taking him out leaves a big hole, and multiple weeks off early in the year didn’t even seem to fix the issues he’s having with his feet/ankles. It’s a tough spot, because he’s clearly a massive part of this team.

+ Bowen Byram’s Battle Level

Corey Perry decided to go full NFL on Byram early in the game with a stiff arm to the face. Rather than backing off, Byram went right at the much larger Perry, which seemed to throw the veteran off. They went at it in the corners for about 15 seconds before the Avalanche cleared the zone. It was nice to see the refs at least settle it on the ice.

Later in the game, Byram made a beautiful play on the MacKinnon goal to set it up. He ended up leading all Avalanche skaters in 5 on 5 ice time by over two minutes.

– 3 on 3 Overtime

I absolutely despise 3 on 3 overtime. That was a tremendous game of hockey to watch. And then the overtime happened.

All the flow that existed during regulation vanished. In five total minutes, the teams combined for one shot on net. I know people don’t like the shootout, and I don’t either, but I don’t think MORE 3 on 3 is the answer, because it’s boring and a lot of the time, nothing happens.

+ Alex Newhook

Newhook looked very confident carrying the puck through the neutral zone against the Lightning. Seeing him grow at center has been a welcome sight. The scoring has tapered off a bit, but he had multiple confident zone entries on evening, none better than the one he had in the second period where he cut through two defenders and hit O’Connor for a great look.

– The Second Line

I’m still a little confused as to why Evan Rodrigues was separated from Nathan MacKinnon. Those two worked well together. Since they were separated, the second line has looked way off, and I did not like them against the Lightning.

It was one of Rodrigues’ weaker performances of the year. Compher had a bit of an off night as well, and his wide shot led to the Lightning finally breaking through. He had a chance late to redeem himself but Vasilevsky stoned him on a break.

Mikko Rantanen continues to get chances, but has not been able to finish for the first time all year. He had the Avalanche’s best look in overtime, but sailed it high. This sounds absurd to say, but the five games he’s gone without a goal is his longest goal drought of the year. Just goes to show how good (and consistent) his start was.

– MacDermid on the Third Goal

For 40 minutes, I barely noticed MacDermid. Against the Lightning, that’s all you really care about.

On the third Lightning goal that tied it up, all of his limitations showed up at once. He gathered the puck behind the net, but didn’t have the speed to separate from the forecheck. His pass up the middle was too far in front of Compher, leading to a turnover. Then he got caught up high, creating an odd man rush down low for the Lightning, which they scored on.

That’s the “big mistake” that just can’t happen in a big game like this.

+ The Fourth Line

For the first time in weeks, the Avalanche dressed 12 forwards. That meant Matt Nieto, Ben Meyers, and Denis Malgin were the fourth line. And they played great.

Their first shift of the game was spent in the offensive zone for 45 seconds. Can’t ask for more than that. In the second period, Nieto drew a penalty. And in the third, Malgin scored his first as a member of the Avalanche.

I asked Bednar about dressing 12 forwards after the game, and he said it felt like the team had a little more rhythm to their game with four lines.

It doesn’t look like they’ll continue with that, however. Meyers was reassigned to the Colorado Eagles after the game, so it looks like Josh Manson’s return means the return of the 11/7 setup.

– Inability to hold a lead

I feel like I’m saying this after a lot of losses, but this team’s failure to hold onto leads in the third period is now costing them points in the standings. It happened against Pittsburgh just a week ago, and again against Tampa Bay. They play well for two periods, and then look like a different team in the third period. They were automatic in third periods last season. Certainly not the case this season.

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