The Avalanche completed a perfect road trip Monday evening, winning 2-1 over the Detroit Red Wings. Prior to that, they took both halves of a back-to-back, winning 3-2 in each game against Carolina and Nashville. They have extended their road win streak to nine games, besting the previous franchise record of seven.
There was a lot to like about this trip, but, as always, there remains room for improvement. Let’s take a look at these last three games and see what went right to keep the Avalanche climbing the rankings of the Central Division.
3-2 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Interestingly enough, two players combined for four of the five total goals in this one. Tyson Jost struck first and then followed that up with a second goal in the next period, finally ending his scoring drought. He’s a polarizing player in the fanbase, to be sure, but I’ve liked what he’s been doing, even when he just couldn’t find the back of the net. The trade deadline came and went and Jost was still an Av and it seems like that gave him some of his confidence back. He was flying in the previous game against Buffalo and that aggression paid off as he took the Avs to an early lead.
The Hurricanes rallied back in the third period. Teuvo Teravainen scored twice, almost exactly two minutes apart, to tie the game. It felt a little bit like a replay of the game the two teams played back in January, where the Hurricanes took the game at the end of the third period.
That wasn’t the case here. Samuel Girard scored the game-winner with three minutes left to play and the Avalanche departed Carolina victorious.
The Avalanche went 0/3 on the powerplay and 3/3 on the penalty kill, which serves to further highlight the issues that the powerplay is having. Something needs to change there, as those scoring opportunities could serve to bolster the offense, which has been suffering lately.
Carolina also managed 47 shots on net. Pavel Francouz, still playing like a man on a mission, stopped 45 of those. A huge number of shots are to be expected when playing Carolina, who will put the puck on net at any given opportunity, so I’m comfortable calling that a blip in the exceptional defense the Avalanche have been playing lately.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) February 29, 2020
3-2 vs. Nashville Predators
This game was strange. The pacing didn’t pick up until halfway through the second period, where Gabriel Landeskog struck first and Martin Kaut followed up two minutes later, scoring his second NHL goal.
The Predators brought it to a one-goal game 14:40 into the third period. They pulled their goalie in one last desperate push at the end, which resulted in Erik Johnson breaking his own scoring drought by scoring an empty-net goal from behind the Avalanche’s own goal line. That ended up being the game-winning goal, as the Predators scored again with only two seconds left to play.
The Condor soars again!
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 1, 2020
Yet again, the Avalanche scored on zero of the four powerplay opportunities they were provided, though they did go 3/3 on the penalty kill. This highlights an interesting trend – As their offense has been struggling to produce, the defense seems to have picked up accordingly. They’re actually winning tight games, something we just didn’t see earlier in the season.
Francouz played well yet again, as he started in both halves of the back-to-back even after facing 47 shots the night before. The Avalanche have a lot of confidence in their backup and he’s earning it, finding himself among the NHL three stars of the week twice in a row.
2-1 vs. Detroit Red Wings
It’s good that the Avalanche treat every game as a battle at this point in the season because the game against the Red Wings wasn’t the blowout that may have been expected. With only 35 points on the season and a -121 goal differential, it’s easy to underestimate a team like the Wings.
Michael Hutchinson made his first start for the Avalanche following the trade with the Maple Leafs and by all accounts did well, despite the outcry following the one and only goal he allowed. It came off of one of the four shots the Avalanche allowed in the first period and it was a fairly soft goal, but he stopped all of the 17 shots he faced for the rest of the game.
The two goals the Avalanche scored came courtesy of some interesting faces, with Vladislav Namestnikov scoring his first in an Avalanche sweater and Logan O’Connor scoring his second NHL goal. Namestnikov has been doing everything right for the Avalanche so far, playing a simple and consistent game. O’Connor has been doing the same, intent on making the most of his time called up to the NHL.
The Captain with the huge play and Logan O'Connor with the clutch finish!
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 3, 2020
Every point matters as the Avalanche try to keep pace with St. Louis and winning every road game in the month of February is exactly what they need at this point in the season. As of March 3rd, they have 87 points, just three points the Blues with two games in-hand. Just as a reminder, the Avalanche finished last season with 90 points total.
Ideally, the team continues to play well defensively as they wait for the key members of the offense to return – When Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and Matt Calvert are healthy again, the scoring should pick back up. This should, hopefully, give the powerplay a bit more pep in its step.
If Francouz continues this level of play, the Avalanche may have a bit of a goaltending question on their hands when Philipp Grubauer is healthy again. That said, with the extremely tight schedule the team is facing, we may see a tandem when both are healthy again – A game every other day is exhausting, even for a hot goaltender.
The next game is a rematch against the Ducks on home-ice and it’s also the Avalanche’s Hockey is for Everyone night. After that, they’re back on the road, with yet another back-to-back over the weekend. It’s essential to finish out the last full month of the regular season strong.