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Avalanche Game 29 Plus/Minus: Flying Val, Sam Has Swagger



Avalanche Sabres

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 Sabres for the Colorado Avalanche.

+ Valeri Nichushkin

Nichushkin legitimately could have had three or four goals in the first period alone. On his first shift, he burst through the defense for a breakaway. His next shift, he had a deflection in front that was barely stopped by Luukkonen. Later, he nearly had another breakaway. And a shift later, he actually did score.

Bednar said it after the game – the difference between Val from this year and Val from last year is the skating. Last year, he was clearly hampered by the foot injury he suffered during the Cup run. I think it’s still bugging him a little bit, from what I’ve been told, but he’s clearly moving much better. He had a rush in the second period where he just cruised through everyone, starting from behind his own net. Instead of shooting, he tried to pass it off to Mikko Rantanen, but it just showed how much better he’s moving this year. He was likely the best player on the ice for either team.

– Second Period

For as good as the Avalanche were in the first and third periods on Wednesday night, it wasn’t pretty in the second period. This time, they held strong and didn’t give up any goals against. In fact, they really didn’t give up all that much in terms of high-danger chances, but they still spent the majority of the second in their own end. The shot attempts and shots on goal at even strength were 2-to-1 in favor of Buffalo. They got out of the period just fine, but still some work to do.

+ Ivan Prosvetov

Prosvetov is just a character off the ice, and on the ice, he might be earning himself more and more ice-time. He went from not being tested at all in the first period to getting tested a lot the rest of the game. In the third period, you could tell he was feeling good, because he had a flashy glove save that the crowd loved.

It’s a little too early to say there’s a goaltending controversy, but he’ll likely get another start this weekend. If anything, this is going to help keep Alexandar Georgiev fresh, which hasn’t really been the case since he got to the Avalanche.

+ Nathan MacKinnon

Poor Jeff Skinner. Well, I guess I don’t feel too bad for him. He’s getting paid a lot of money, so he’s going to be fine, but I can’t imagine he expected to get trucked by a forward playing defense in the second period. He must have forgotten that forward was Nathan MacKinnon, and that the 28 year old superstar is built like a Mack truck. We could hear the hit from the press box, and I think I even felt it as well.

That was just one play, though. MacKinnon continued his dominance of late, and is now on a 13 game point streak. There were a lot of questions about MacKinnon’s play early in the season, but I was never worried. Right now, he’s on pace to top his career best numbers from last season, and he’s really only just heating up.

Hart Trophy?

+ Sam Malinski Has Swagger

When I talked to Sam Malinski last week, I told him he had a little bit of Cale Makar in his game at the offensive blueline. His response?

“I think that’s a little bit of a stretch, for sure,”

Well, he’s not doing anything to change my mind. He looks like an ideal fit for this system.

No one else is Cale Makar, but Malinski looks fast, agile, and with each game over the last week, you can see the confidence growing on the offensive side of the puck. He’s jumping into the play, and doing so with some swagger. In the first period, he gave a defenseman a toe-drag on the rush. You don’t try that in your seventh NHL game if you aren’t feeling some confidence. A great moment for him to get his first NHL goal, and he had to do the whole media circus after the game, including an interview on National TV where he had to tell the world his test scores.

+ Saving The Homestand

A 2-3 homestand would not have looked good, especially against some inferior teams. While 3-2 isn’t great, it’s a heck of a lot better than a losing record. The Avalanche are back on top in the Central Division, and will have a chance to extend that lead with a big game on Saturday in Winnipeg.

+ Everything Erik Johnson

A very emotional day for Erik Johnson, but he deserved every ounce of love he got from Avalanche fans. He was the ambassador for this organization for the longest time. When things were bad here, he didn’t want out. Quite the opposite. He wanted to be a part of the solution, and he ultimately was.

In the morning, he called Gabriel Landeskog a warrior, but the same word applies to Johnson. The guy dealt with a lot of injuries during his time in Colorado, and some of it was just bad luck. Your kneecap shattering from blocking a Tyler Seguin shot? Not much you can do about that.

A terrible concussion nearly ended his career, but he never gave up, and his presence was extremely noticeable during the 2021-22 Stanley Cup run. He was incredible during the playoffs, and to see him lift the Cup is something Avalanche fans will never forget.

This is all just stuff that happened on the ice, too. Off the ice, what a guy. He looks you in the eye and calls you by your name if you ask him a question. No player has to do that, and it’s certainly not expected, but Johnson does that for everyone. He did it again yesterday.

Thanks for everything, EJ.

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