Avalanche break out of slump with dominating performance against St. Louis

Jan 2, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Joonas Donskoi (72) celebrates his goal with center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and defenseman Samuel Girard (49) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29) in the third period against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Avalanche’s loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday, Avs coach Jared Bednar said Colorado needed to do a better job of tightening up defensively. He referenced the Avs’ forwards needing to come back to help the defense play a more aggressive game.

On Thursday his team responded.

Colorado dominated the St. Louis Blues, winning 7-3 to break out of its recent losing slide. More importantly, the Avalanche made a statement against the Stanley Cup champions and current leaders of the Central Division.

“It’s big,” star center Nathan MacKinnon said after his four-point performance. “But two points is two points and now we move on and hopefully win three on the road.”

The Avs weathered an early storm from the Blues which included killing two penalties in the first period. Colorado held St. Louis to just eight shots in the first, and before the buzzer sounded, MacKinnon broke loose on a breakaway, scoring his 25th of the season to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead with 10 seconds remaining.

That goal may have given the Avalanche all the momentum they needed to open the second period.

Colorado took 14 of the first 15 shots in the second, scoring twice—once on the powerplay—to open a 3-0 lead. Center Nazem Kadri scored his 14th of the season, beating Blues goalie Jordan Binnington from a tough angle. Then while on a two-man advantage, Colorado’s top unit exhausted the St. Louis penalty killers before forward Mikko Rantanen used his one-timer, set up by defenseman Cale Makar, to continue the Avalanche’s offensive surge.

The Blues began to claw back, scoring twice to pull within a goal. But Colorado’s power play continued its dominance as Makar found the back of the net with 16 seconds left to regain a two-goal lead before the final period.

“Unreal screen by Mikko in front of the net,” Makar said. “I was able to just put it through the guy that was in front of me and it went in.”

Colorado’s fourth goal was crucial in protecting a third-period lead, something it had struggled with mightily in recent games. Instead of sitting back, the Avs kept firing—adding three more goals in the third to chase Binnington with just over five minutes remaining.

“I think we were just due,” MacKinnon said, speaking about Colorado’s third-period dominance. “I feel like we give out all of our opponents’ goals in the third. We have bad breakdowns. Something just kind of felt different tonight when they made it 3-2, there was no panic.”

Takeaways

The power play has responded. Bednar recently altered his power-play units in search of a spark. The response, 3-for-5 on 11 shots in 6:23 of power-play time. Colorado also scored twice with the man-advantage against Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Avs are 5-for-9 on the power play in the past two games, following a stretch where they scored on just 5-of-36 opportunities.

Colorado puts a dent in their Central Division record. The Avs are now 7-8-1 against their division rivals. They were winless in their last four against the Central, going 0-3-1 as teams such as Winnipeg and Dallas closed the gap on Colorado for home-ice advantage. Thursday’s victory brings the Avs within six points of the Blues for first in the division.

Grubauer responds with his first victory in over four weeks. Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer had not won a game since December 4. Thursday’s victory was massive for the Avalanche, as they prepare for three games in four nights on the east coast before a five-game homestand. Colorado will need both its goaltenders operating on all cylinders between now and the All-Star break in nearly three weeks.

“It’s big,” Bednar said. “When you talk about confidence, he played so well before his injuries. He’s a guy that the more he plays the better he gets so I feel like he has been okay, but we kind played through that. But hopefully, tonight gives him a lot of confidence because he has been really good in areas of the game but he just hasn’t been able to sustain it for a full 60. He did that tonight and he gets a win.”

Stat of the Night

This is Girard’s first four-point game, collecting four assists. Girard also had two assists on Tuesday making it the first time he’s recorded multiple points in consecutive games in his career.

Girard had never recorded more than two points in a game before this.

Colorado opens its three-game road trip against the New Jersey Devils at 5 p.m. MST on Saturday.

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