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Colorado Avalanche

Avalanche Game 38 Plus/Minus: Goaltending Matters, Unstoppable Nichushkin



Avalanche Islanders

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 Islanders for the Colorado Avalanche.

+ Valeri Nichushkin Is On Another Level

Right now, teams simply don’t have an answer for Valeri Nichushkin and it’s winning the Avalanche games.

In front of the net, he’s essentially allowed to do what he wants. Are you going to move a 6’4″ monster? I’m not, and no defenseman in the league is capable of doing that at the moment. This game went to overtime, but Nichushkin tried his best to make sure that wouldn’t happen. With 30 seconds left, he stole the puck from the Islanders in the neutral zone, then powered his way to the net before being stopped by his old KHL teammate Ilya Sorokin. It wasn’t meant to be, but Colorado won in overtime anyway.

His dominance is allowing the Avalanche to spread things out just a little bit. With Nichushkin on the second line, Bednar can spread things out a little bit more. Ryan Johansen has been up over 14 minutes in back-to-back games. That might not seem like a lot (it’s not), but on this team, that’s more than what the 2C has been getting, so it matters.

Right now, his contract looks like a steal. $6.125 million per year for a point-per-game player? Not bad at all. MacKinnon called him a “beast.” Bednar said he was “awesome.” Right now, he’s just an animal.

– Alexandar Georgiev

This game should not have been close. The Avalanche dominated from the drop of the puck and spent very little time in their own end. Were the chances they gave up in the first of the high-danger variety? Yes, but they also went right through Georgiev. I have more of a problem with the second goal than the first, because Nelson doesn’t even attempt to make a move. He just beats Georgiev cleanly.

The third goal, however, was very stoppable, and could have been an absolute killer. Right before that goal, Sorokin stopped Rantanen at the other end on a 2-on-1. To have the puck come down the other way and end up in the back of your net on a shot that isn’t all that dangerous stinks.

Colorado only gave up 22 shots on goal. You shouldn’t have to score five goals to win on a night like that. Georgiev just has to be better.

+ Jonathan Drouin

For $825k, the Avalanche are getting a lot of bang-for-their-buck right now. 10 points in his last 10 games, and after some healthy scratches and a slow start to the year, he’s got 15 points in his last 21 games. You can tell that he’s bought in to how the team needs to play. The effort is there on the forecheck and the backcheck, and that goes a long way in buying yourself some ice-time. I thought for sure he was going to look for the extra pass on his goal. After the game, he said otherwise, but he’s a passer, so I just assumed that backdoor pass was coming.

He deserves all the credit for what’s happening right now. Sure, it helps when you get to play with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but the staff isn’t going to just give him that ice-time. He got it to start the year, didn’t play well, and lost it. Now, he’s back up there because he deserves to be.

+ Girard’s Random Big Hit

I thought it was an up and down night for Sam Girard. He had some real struggles in the first period, which was highlight by the whiff on a shot and the puck bouncing over his stick for the first goal. However, it’s clear having him back changes the complexion of the defense. The team has a much easier time breaking out of their zone with him in the lineup and that matters a lot.

That being said, what was up with that big hit on the forecheck in the second period? First of all, I hope Robert Bortuzzo is okay. His ankle didn’t look to be in great shape after the hit, but he couldn’t have expected the 5’10” Girard to do that to him. Sam randomly throws big hits from time to time, and this was one of them. He usually does it against players his size, though. Not 6’4″ defensemen.

+ Angry Nathan MacKinnon

That overtime shot came from pure anger. Sorokin came over to the right post and was just hoping the puck hit him. It didn’t, but if it would have hit him, it probably would have hurt. I also loved his assist on the game-tying goal. Just a quick pass to Nichushkin that no one was ready for. Maybe that’s because people were distracted by Makar’s stick flying 600 feet in the air, but it was a great play.

He’s up to 61 points in 38 games now. Connor McDavid is coming and that’s going to make everything more complicated when it comes to the Hart Trophy voting at the end of the year, but right now, MacKinnon has to be one of the favorites.

+ Ben Meyers

For as good as the stars were, I want to give Ben Meyers his flowers. I loved his game on Tuesday night. He was confident with the puck, made the right decision most of the time, and was very responsible in his own end. It was Ross Colton’s first game back, and it didn’t look like he was moving the way he usually does, so Meyers ended up spending a lot of time in the center position. He looked very confident doing so, and made passes getting the puck out of his zone, and used his stick well defensively. I still am not sure he’s a consistent NHL player, or what he can become, but I thought he had a great night.

The Avalanche can play Meyers one more game before they have to make a decision on him. He’s at 58 NHL games, and once he hits 60, he will have to pass through waivers if Colorado wants to send him down. I have no idea if another team would try and take him if he did hit waivers. His NHL resume isn’t exactly great, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was a highly sought after NCAA free agent. If you’re the Avalanche, do you try and hide him in the AHL to keep that flexibility, or do you care? I guess we’ll find out. He wasn’t the low man in terms of ice-time, and I’d say he earned that, as he looked better than a guy like Joel Kiviranta.

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