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 Hurricanes for the Avalanche.
+ Line Changes…Again?!?
It’s not great that Jared Bednar has had to change up the lines for three consecutive games to get something going, but right now, it’s working.
For the first time all year, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen were separated, and it paid immediate dividends. MacKinnon got put between Lehkonen and Nichushkin, both of whom were flying out there. They immediately drew a penalty, and then scored at even strength soon after.
Rantanen woke up too, as he nearly scored a spinning backhand goal after the change. He added one on the powerplay at the end of the second.
I guess we’ll see tomorrow if these lines stick for practice. At some point, they’ll find the right combination, but it hasn’t happened yet.
+ Special Teams
The Avalanche gave up their first powerplay goal to the opposition, but they scored shorthanded again, so it evened out. The powerplay set them apart, though.
Three powerplay goals, two of which came right after Ryan Johansen won a face-off, meaning the Avalanche more than doubled their goal total with the man advantage on Saturday. Johansen has been relatively quiet at even strength (more on that below), but he’s been big on the powerplay.
– More Byram Penalties
Jared Bednar didn’t really hold back after the game, stating that Byram is struggling with the foot speed of the game right now and his reads are off. In the third period, they separated Byram and Sam Girard, putting each with more stay-at-home defensemen. We’ll see if that gets Byram skating more, because beyond the penalties, his offense has been lacking. Seven minor penalties in just five games is not ideal.
+ Artturi Lehkonen
They added another assist for him after the game, giving him a career high four points, and they were well earned. On the Johansen goal, he dug the puck out behind the net, and on Rantanen’s goal, he battled to win the puck off a face-off. He isn’t always rewarded offensively, but the work ethic never changes.
+ Ryan Johansen
This was the first game where he felt dangerous at even strength. In the first, he had a nice rush wide, before his shot attempt was deflected wide. Later in the period, he timed his cut perfectly, taking a puck from Nichushkin for a nice chance. No points at even strength, but some positive momentum.
His work on the powerplay continues to be strong, and his face-off ability is really coming in handy. Two of the three powerplay goals came within 15 seconds of him winning an offensive zone draw, and those wins came against Jordan Staal, who is great in the face-off circle himself.
+ Valeri Nichushkin’s Skating
I bet if you went back and watched a regular season game from last season, then watched a game to start this year, you’d really see just how much better Nichushkin is moving.
This is a completely different team with Nichushkin in the lineup, but when he’s skating the way he is right now, it changes the complexion of the team. Beyond MacKinnon, I’m not sure anyone on the team is better at driving the play forward. And yes, I didn’t forget about Mikko Rantanen.
A healthy Nichushkin is a huge difference maker.
– Colton’s Offense
Ross Colton was a shot generation machine in Tampa Bay. Through five games with the Avalanche, he’s struggled to generate chances. At even strength, he’s registered only six shots on net. That’s not the number I expected to see at this point.
He’s learning to be a center in the NHL full-time, and I’d like to think those shots will start to come eventually, but so far, they haven’t.
+ Logan O’Connor
How can we not give some love to LOC? Three straight games with a shorty is insane. His first two goals were high glove, so he must have figured the Hurricanes read the scouting report and changed things up.
He has a tendency to start the season hot offensively, and will cool off eventually, but enjoy the ride for now. He’s flying.