To some, it felt like the Colorado Avalanche might be taking the St. Louis Blues lightly. They gave Josh Manson the night off, and let Alexandar Georgiev was the backup.
The reality is, it forced the Avalanche to really buckle down defensively in one of their more impressive wins in 2023.
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 Blues.
+ The Second Line
It’s been a struggle the last few games for the second line, but against the Blues, they were the best line on the ice. All three of the skaters on the line finished above 80% in terms of shot share, meaning the team controlled over 80% of the shot attempts when they were out there.
Rantanen, in particular, had some jump in his step after a few off games. He was dancing through the neutral zone with the puck, and was rewarded on a nice pick and roll play with his buddy MacKinnon.
Rodrigues created a few chances himself with his playmaking, including a nice drop pass to Compher early in the game.
A nice bounce back game for this trio.
+ Bowen Byram
From the drop of the puck, Byram was the best skater on the ice. He didn’t get on the board in the first period, but he was jumping into the play and creating chances for his team. He finished the game with the Avalanche controlling 78% of shot attempts while he was out there.
It was tough to tell on the replay if Byram’s shot was deflected on his first goal, but it was a great job by him to change the angle of the shot at the last second. His second goal was just a bomb.
I get asked all the time about Byram’s contract this summer, and it’s a tough one to gauge. Do you commit long term to him with his injury history? Would Byram even sign long term deal or try to bet on himself? Either way, when he’s healthy, he’s a difference maker for this team.
+ Team Defense
With Annunen in net, you could tell the team really tightened up defensively. The Blues barely got into the slot, and were contested all the time by sticks. Even on the penalty kill, Annunen was able to see the puck clearly.
In the third period, Logan O’Connor blocked a point shot with a three goal lead, and you could hear the Avalanche bench erupt. That’s team building stuff right there.
The Avalanche did a great job of making Annunen’s life easy. And he did his part…
+ Justus Annunen
It’s been a long time since the Avalanche drafted and developed a goaltender. Annunen had a strong year in the AHL last year, and is having another solid season this year.
Against the Blues, he looked calm and confident. Goalies are so difficult to judge, but you have to leave this game feeling good about Annunen, even if the Avalanche made his life easy.
+ Casual Nathan MacKinnon Dominance
Nathan MacKinnon is incredible, and maybe sometimes we take that for granted. Against the Blues, he was dominant in transition, and in the offensive zone, the Blues couldn’t contain him. With two more assists, he’s now up to 46 on the season in just 43 games. He’s well on his way to shattering his career high in in assists, despite missing nearly a month.
Don’t ever take a superstar like MacKinnon for granted.
– The Cale Makar Scare
This one was pretty clearly an accident, but after just returning from a concussion, seeing Makar leave the game again had to send shivers down Avs fans spines. He did return, and apparently it was just a bloody nose, but you’re still left with an uneasy feeling. They’ll need him against McDavid on Sunday.
+ Valeri Nichushkin Gets One
It’s been a tough year for the big Russian, health wise, and as the year has gone on, his offense has disappeared. His third period goal was his first in a month, and only his second goal in 19 games.
Now, this puck went in off his skate, but when you haven’t scored in forever, you just are looking for a bounce. He still is sitting on just one even strength goal, but maybe this gets him going.
+ Casual Devon Toews Domination
Much like MacKinnon, maybe we take Toews for granted a little bit. On Saturday afternoon, that active stick of his was on fire, breaking up passes left and right, and setting up easy clears on the penalty kill. He led the team in ice time with nearly 25 minutes.