It turns out, Cale Makar is kind of important to the Colorado Avalanche. After returning from a brief absence due to a lower-body injury, he picked up right where he left off, with three points and the game-winning goal.
He wasn’t the only defenseman to return and make a positive impact on the team.
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 Coyotes.
+ Cale Makar Domination
This game really changed when Cale Makar decided to take over. For the first 30 minutes, the game was very nondescript. The first 10 minutes of the second period, in particular, were pretty ugly to watch. Then Makar started to slowly take control. He went dancing in the offensive zone around every single Coyotes defender, and the only person who stopped him was Vejmelka, who got his leg on Makar’s wrap-around attempt. Not long after, Makar fired a laser off the cross-bar. The puck was hit so hard it nearly landed in the press box.
Everything eventually paid off in the third period, when Makar wristed one through traffic for the game-winner. With the goal, he passed Tyson Barrie for the franchise lead in game-winning goals by a defenseman.
Just a reminder: he’s only 24. A lot more of those to come.
+ Cogliano-Helm-O’Connor Reunited
There were a few times in the game where the Avalanche needed some energy, and they put Helm back between his old friends, Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor. This was the fourth line during the Stanley Cup run, and one that was huge for the team. The times they were put back together, they did exactly what was expected of them, and nearly created a goal on their first shift. They only played 3:07 together, but spent more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. That’s what you want.
After the game, Bednar said he wants to get back to using this trio full-time, but Helm needs to get back up to speed. I’m not sure Eller has been a great fit there, as he doesn’t have the speed to stick with those two wingers. But we know Helm fits. And when that line is playing well, they make life miserable for the opposing team.
For a guy coming off a pretty significant leg injury, he moved around just fine. The Avalanche eased him in, as he only played 14:34. With only one PK, that may skew numbers, but honestly, that’s right around where you probably want him. I don’t necessarily love him pair with Jack Johnson, but it was good to see EJ back and healthy.
+ Balanced Defense
How different did the defense look with Makar and EJ back? It was fairly noticeable, in my opinion. This game was far from a blowout, and yet, no one was overextended too much. Makar played less than his season average, and the rest of the top four didn’t have to play more than they should. Having a competent third pairing makes a huge different.
Imagine what this team would look like with a healthy Josh Manson…
– The Girard/Byram Pair
The Avalanche seem to really like this pair, but I don’t think they compliment each other all that much. There just doesn’t seem to be much chemistry between the two. At one point, Girard dropped it back to Byram, but the young defenseman wasn’t ready and they got pinned in their own end. I also don’t like that it puts Byram on his off-side. Girard seems to handle that fine, but Byram doesn’t look the same.
+ Alexandar Georgiev…again
Perhaps the most impressive thing from Georgiev this year has been his ability to play in any type of game. If the Avalanche give up 40+ shots, he is able to stay with it. When the Avalanche are on their game and not giving up a ton of opportunities, he’s still able to stay focused in between long stretches of inactivity. That’s difficult to do for any player, but especially a goaltender, because the mental side of the game is huge for that position.
I feel like I say this after every game, but I just come away more and more impressed with him as the season goes on.
+ Alex Newhook
Did Newhook get on the scoresheet? No. Did he miss some great opportunities? Yes, he absolutely did. But at least he’s getting those chances. He’s in their right place, and if you do that enough, eventually things will start to turn your way. He was second on the team in even strength shot attempts, behind only Cale Makar, and tied for the lead in individual scoring chances. He’ll need to start burying some, which he told me earlier this morning (look for a story on Newhook this weekend), but he’s doing something right to get to those areas.
The Coyotes didn’t give the Avalanche anything for the first 30 minutes of the game. And even as the Avalanche started to get their chances, you could see how they might start to get frustrated. But just like the last outing between these two teams, the home team kept with it and eventually got a few past the goaltender.