The Colorado Avalanche lineup underwent its most drastic renovation of the season Tuesday night, but how the team prevailed looked pretty familiar as it snapped a season-long three-game skid.
Alexandar Georgiev was strong early, Nathan MacKinnon dominated and the Avalanche looked more like a dominant two-way club until a late hiccup in a 3-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Ball Arena. The Avs are hurting and the situation might have gotten worse in this game, but MacKinnon had a three-point night and one of his best efforts of the campaign to help secure the win.
“It was a great win,” MacKinnon said. “I mean, with our roster we’ve got a lot of pretty good players out. I thought we outplayed them five-on-five … overall it was a pretty good game.”
Kurtis MacDermid hadn’t played since Nov. 24 in Minnesota, but he scored for the second time in three shifts to open the scoring just 1:40 in. He collected a pass from MacKinnon with his skate, kicked it to his stick and snapped one into the top corner to beat John Gibson. MacDermid scored on his second-to-last shift in the third period two weeks ago against the Wild, which was the game winner.
There were parts of the first period after the goal when Anaheim had the upper hand, but Georgiev was excellent to keep his team in front. The second period looked more like what the Avs expect.
They created plenty of chances to put this contest away, but Gibson — much like he was Saturday night for the final two periods in Anaheim in a 4-3 Ducks win — was tough to beat. MacKinnon finally did it late in the second.
Josh Manson, filling in for an injured Cale Makar on the top pairing, made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone during a prolonged possession, knocking it down with his glove along the wall. Gibson stopped Manson’s point shot, but Jonathan Drouin one-touched the rebound to MacKinnon with a perfect cross-crease pass for an easy one and a two-goal lead.
MacKinnon fed his new linemate, Logan O’Connor in front of the Anaheim at 6:21 of the third to give Colorado some insurance. It is MacKinnon’s fourth three-point game of the season.
Avs coach Jared Bednar altered the forward lines more than he has in any game this season. O’Connor moved to the top line, bumping Mikko Rantanen down. Ross Colton moved up to the second line to join him, along with Oskar Olausson, who was making his season debut with the Avalanche. Joel Kiviranta moved up the third line, where Ryan Johansen landed for the first time.
“It went good,” MacKinnon said of his new-look line. “With OC, you know what you’re getting. He’s an easy guy to read off of. (Drouin) is the same thing. He’s always trying to find me in open ice to try and get some zone entries. I thought Mikko did a great job too, obviously playing with a young kid in Oskar and helping him a lot tonight.”
Part of the reason for the shuffle was both Valeri Nichushkin (illness) and Andrew Cogliano (lower body) were unavailable. They joined a growing list of players who were not in the lineup. Makar was out for the second consecutive game because of a lower-body injury, though he did participate in the morning skate. Artturi Lehkonen (neck) and Samuel Girard (player assistance program) remain out indefinitely.
The list grew again when Bowen Byram didn’t return for the third period. Max Jones knocked Byram down in the middle of the second period with a big hit. O’Connor immediately took exception and went after Jones. There was no penalty on the play, and Bryam did play two more shifts before exiting with what a team official said was an upper-body injury.
Bednar said after the game that Byram’s injury is not head related. He also is hopeful that Makar could return as soon as Thursday night against Winnipeg.
It did get hairy for the Avs late. Sam Carrick scored a shorthanded goal with 9:17 left, but things got worse when Fredrik Olofsson tripped Leo Carlsson. MacDermid went after Carlsson after the whistle and collected a second infraction, so the Ducks had a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes.
They needed exactly half of it before Carlsson scored on a one-timer from Troy Terry to make it a one-goal game with 5:49 remaining. The Avs were able to kill off the rest and avoid what would have been a stunning collapse.
“Today was just getting a win,” Drouin said. “The line combinations and ‘D’ combinations were all in the blender. I thought we kept it simple for 40 minutes. Maybe we got away from that on the one power play and gave them a little sniff to get back in the game. But for close to 60 minutes, I thought we played well.”
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