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Avalanche Game 78 Plus/Minus: Top Line Struggles, Second Line Picks Them Up

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Avalanche Kings

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 Kings for the Avalanche.

– MacKinnon and Rantanen Struggle

It was bound to happen eventually. MacKinnon and Rantanen have been carrying the team through this stretch of games of late, and at some point, fatigue was going to set in. Neither of them looked like they had any energy all game long. Rantanen couldn’t hold onto the puck in the first period, and it continued most of the night. MacKinnon didn’t have the same burst, and the Kings did a good job of containing him. His spinning shot on the Kings third goal had no mustard on it, but he compounded the issue by jumping up in the neutral zone, which gave the Kings even more numbers.

They’re a big reason the Avalanche are at the top of the Central right now, but they’re human like everyone else. They have off-nights. This was one of them.

+ The Second Line

The only line that was consistently able to get into the Kings zone, even a few times in the first period. Denis Malgin had kind of slipped into a slump, with no goals in his last eight games. It took a super flukey goal to get him on the board, and he snuck away from his man for the game-winner. Nichushkin just outmuscled Danault on the game-winner, and was a monster with the Avalanche protecting the lead and the net empty. While Compher didn’t generate a ton himself, he ultimately won his head-to-head matchup with Danault. That’s the concern in the playoffs. Can he outplay the oppositions second line center? He did on Saturday.

– That First Period

What was that? I expected the Avalanche to struggle without both Makar and Byram. I did not think it was going to be that bad. And it can’t just all be pinned on the defense, either. Forwards failed to get the puck out of the zone numerous times. Cogliano took a penalty early in the game, but it only happened because O’Connor had a clean zone exit and just whiffed on it. Rantanen had struggles along the boards in that first, as did Eller.

It was a hideous display of hockey. They were really lucky to enter the intermission tied. Why was it tied? Well…

+ Georgiev Steals One

That’s a team the Avalanche haven’t beaten this season, and they had to know it coming into the game. Most of the team didn’t come out playing like they needed to win, but one guy did, and it was Alexandar Georgiev. He was lights out to start the game, and kept it up until the final buzzer. He was beaten by two deflections, and one tremendous effort by Kempe. No blame goes to him on those goals.

And now he gets a much needed day off, as his backup goaltender Pavel Francouz returns to the lineup. I actually wonder if the Avalanche just let him sit in the press box, and let Johansson back up Francouz. Take advantage of carrying three goalies.

+ Newhook Finally Gets One

It was his first goal in 20 games, but it didn’t look like it. That was a goal scorers goal. He got lucky with Walker tripping over the red line, which gave him a clear break, but that was a pretty move. He was getting a lot of chances last week, and made a great play on the second Meyers goal the other night, so it’s nice to see him get one. Now it’ll be about carrying some of that momentum forward.

+ The Third Period

The bar was set pretty low through two periods, but the Avalanche dug deep and found something in the third period, controlling 65% of the shot attempts. I said on twitter in the intermission that as ugly as the game was, they just needed to win a period to win the game. They did exactly that.

– The Third Line

I just don’t like this line at all. In a perfect world, they’re a fourth line, and maybe that’s a reason for the issues, but they are getting smoked. Eller had the big face-off win on the Hunt goal, but struggle with the puck, especially in his own end. I would say in the offensive end too, but this line spent very little time there. All three of them had the lowest possession numbers on the team, and it wasn’t very close.

NEUTRAL: The Defense

The defense struggled overall, but every single one of them was punching above their weight class on Saturday night. With no Makar and no Byram, they all had to move up and play more minutes than they really should. I expected struggles before the game, so to see them have issues didn’t really catch me off guard. Jack Johnson actually led the team in even strength time-on-ice by a whopping three minutes, which is crazy. MacDermid and Hunt got stuck on the ice for some really long stretches, but Hunt scored a big goal to help make up for it.

Not sure if either Byram or Makar return against the Ducks, but you’d like to think the Avalanche can survive without them against a team that is trying to lose.

– The Los Angeles Kings

This isn’t necessarily a minus for the Kings, but more for the match-up, from an Avalanche perspective. The Kings are dropping in the standings, and now are in danger of falling to that first Wild Card spot. Who does that spot play? The winner of the Central, in all likelihood. I don’t like this matchup for the Avalanche. Now, I don’t have any faith in the Kings goaltending actually holding up, but the team in front of those goalies slows the game down. That’s not how Colorado wants to play. I think the Avalanche would like to avoid this team if they could in the first round.

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