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Colorado Avalanche

Without Nichushkin, Avalanche Fall 4-3 In Montreal




History shows that the Colorado Avalanche are a significantly better team with Valeri Nichushkin than without.

For the immediate future, they’re going to have to learn to play without the big Russian. On Tuesday night, his absence was noticeable.

The Avalanche relied on their big guns (again) to pull out the win, but it wasn’t enough, as they fell 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 30 of the 34 shots he faced, but there may be a goal or two he’d like back. It was the sixth time in seven games that he finished with a save percentage under .900.

Ross Colton, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews scored the goals for the Avalanche, and Jonathan Drouin picked up an assist in his return to Montreal.

First Period

Five minutes into the game, it looked like the Avalanche were going to blow out the Canadiens. They owned the puck, so much so that their makeshift fourth line was able to draw a penalty in the offensive zone. On the ensuing powerplay, Colorado took adantage.

Just moments after Ross Colton deflected a puck through Jake Allen’s legs and wide, he got a shot at redemption. Cale Makar, with the puck at the blueline, sent a shot-pass right onto Jonathan Drouin’s stick. Drouin’s deflection hit Colton in the skate, and the gritty forward’s initial backhand shot was stopped by Allen’s pad. He stuck with it through, and smacked the rebound into the net, giving Colorado the 1-0 lead.

Montreal, clearly outplayed early, didn’t back down. They forced the Avalanche into a lot of mistakes at their defensive blueline, which led to long shifts in the offensive zone for the Canadiens. On one of those shifts, they managed to draw a penalty on Sam Malinski, and went to the powerplay. It took them just 24 seconds to tie the game up, as Juraj Slafkovksy was left all alone at the side of the net. Like Colton, his initial shot was stopped, but he sent the rebound past Georgiev, evening the game up at 1-1.

The next portion of the period belonged to Montreal, who started to pepper Georgiev with shots. Georgiev did his part, stopping 15 of 16 shots in the first. Late in the period, Colorado got skating a bit more, with Mikko Rantanen getting their best chance in the slot, but Allen was up to the task, keeping the game tied up.

Second Period

The start of the second period? Hard to really complain much about it. The Canadiens could barely get out of their zone for the first 14 minutes of the period. It was all Avalanche, and at one point halfway through the period, the Canadiens had recorded just one measly shot attempt.

Just a minute into the period, the top line went to work, as Rantanen provided the screen in front of the net fora. Makar blast to find its way past Allen, giving Colorado the 2-1 lead. This is the part of the game where the Avalanche start to take over, right?

Well, kind of. They dominated the possession game, but couldn’t get that insurance goal to give themselves some breathing room. With just about eight minutes left in the second, Colorado got a massive chance to extend their lead, as they found themselves on a short 5-on-3. They failed to take advantage of it, allowing Montreal to hang around. And by killing the penalties, the Canadiens starting to gain some momentum.

Montreal’s tying goal came off a really sloppy shift from Colorado. MacKinnon thought he was getting a penalty, and he probably should have, because he tripped up someone in the defensive zone. The refs didn’t call it, and play went on, but MacKinnon had kind of given up on it. He poked the puck away at one point, but gave it right back to Montreal, who maintained possession. The puck eventually came to Harvey-Pinard, who moved around a falling Josh Manson and had plenty of room skating towards Georgiev. His initial shot was stopped, but the rebound snuck through Georgiev, tying the game up.

All of the good work Colorado had done up to that point didn’t really matter, because the game was tied heading into the third.

Third Period

Early in the third, Rantanen got caught holding 200 feet away from his own net, giving Montreal their second powerplay of the game. And for the second time on Monday night, they took advantage. Cole Caufield seemed to catch Georgiev off-guard by deciding to shoot from a poor angle, and beat the All-Star on the glove side, giving Montreal the 3-2 lead.

Rantanen redeemed himself a little bit later in the period. With both teams playing 4-on-4, Rantanen made an elite play right when you start to get really frustrated with him. He has a tendency of doing that. Rantanen held up on the left side, waiting for Devon Toews to stop, and sent a perfect pass across the ice to the defenseman. Toews’ one-timer went off the stick of the Canadiens defenseman, fooling Allen and tying the game at three.

As they usually do, the Avalanche found a way to battle back and tie the game. That means this game was headed to overtime, right?

Not so fast.

A completely broken play, where one player wanted the puck more than everyone else on the ice, gave the Canadiens the late lead. With just over four minutes left in regulation, the puck bounced around near the front of Colorado’s net. Both Josh Manson and Sam Girard lost track of the puck, with it rolling through Girard’s legs. Georgiev seemed to track the puck, but didn’t pounce out to cover it. Joel Armia was the only skater on the ice who had any idea where the puck was, and his diving backhand beat Georgiev, sending the fans into a frenzy.

Colorado tried to push with the empty net, but couldn’t beat Allen, and the Canadiens walked away with the 4-3 win.

There will be no time for the Avalanche to sit and pout, because they’re right back at it on Tuesday night in Ottawa. Could we see the season debut of Justus Annunen in net? I’d say there’s a good chance, but we won’t know until right before game-time, which is 5 PM MST.

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