Deen’s List: Darcy Kuemper scores big win over his former teammate Adin Hill as Avalanche throttle San Jose 6-2

Nov 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) and right wing Valeri Nichushkin (13) celebrate defeating the San Jose Sharks at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

During his four-year tenure with the Arizona Coyotes, Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper split the crease with Antti Raanta and Adin Hill. All three moved on over the summer with the former getting traded to Colorado and the latter to San Jose.

In their first meeting against each other, Kuemper had the upper hand on his old friend. The Avs throttled the San Jose Sharks 6-2 on Saturday, winning their second straight game by a wide margin. Kuemper made 28 saves.

“We just kind of gave each other a stick tap at the start of warm-ups there,” Kuemper said of Hill. “All business after that. I’ll send him a text after the game and catch up a little bit.”

Despite being the third-string goalie during his tenure with Arizona, Hill appeared in 49 games over those seasons because of injuries to both Kuemper and Raanta. He was 19-21-4 with a .909 save percentage but has been solid in his new home with the rejuvenated Sharks.

“He’s being given a good opportunity to play lots and that’s great for him,” Kuemper said.

Kuemper developed into one of the more underrated goalies in the NHL during his time with the Coyotes. Between 2018-2020, he was strong in nearly every statistical category, even leading Arizona to a playoff spot in 2020, where he lost in five games to Colorado.

During those two seasons, Kuemper’s .926 save percentage was second-best in the NHL (Ben Bishop, .927) for goalies that started at least 15 games. He also was top-10 in shutouts (seven) and had a record of 43-31-10 on a team that had a losing record when he wasn’t in goal.

Kuemper has posted a 5-2 record in his last seven games with the Avs and seems to finally be the guy Colorado thought it was getting — the goalie that someone like Hill was able to look up to for years.

“He’s been steady and that’s what we’re gonna need from him,” forward Nazem Kadri said of Kuemper’s play. “He’s a great goaltender and that’s why we acquired him. Early in the season, I don’t think we were playing very good in front of him and it might have hurt his numbers a little bit. But I think now we’ve all kind of found our stride and it definitely shows.

Deen’s List:

Girard makes his mark

Defenseman Samuel Girard didn’t have the best start to the season. Not only was he banged up on multiple occasions in the early going, but offensively, he had just two assists in seven games.

That has since changed. Girard had an assist in last week’s loss at Columbus and followed it up with two points against Vancouver on Thursday. But against the Sharks Girard scored a goal and pitched in with three assists.

“He sees the ice so well,” rookie forward Alex Newhook said, after scoring his first career regular-season goal off a setup from Girard. “When he’s going like that it helps the forwards a lot. It helps us kind of keep the pressure on and get some offense from the back end.”

Listen to “They’re Back” on Spreaker.

Lasers from Toews

Not enough is said about defenseman Devon Toews’ offensive pedigree, especially on the power play. Since the Avs saw three players return on Thursday, Toews has been paired up with Girard and forwards Valeri Nichushkin, Kadri and Newhook on the team’s second power-play unit.

That combination has scored two of three power-play goals in those games, including Toews’ laser from the blueline on Saturday. He also scored a goal in similar fashion on Thursday, a slapshot from long range. Toews has two goals and three points over the past two games.

His return has reinvigorated the Avs both offensively and more importantly, in their own end.

Kadri can

Without Nathan MacKinnon in the lineup, Kadri has stepped up to give the Avs a strong second choice.

Kadri had three points on Saturday, extending his point streak to six games (three goals, 10 points). He was also strong on Thursday without the team’s top offensive weapon.

“You look at Naz’s last two games and what he’s been able to do, those are two of the best games I’ve seen him play,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Less turnovers, better management of the puck, equally as dangerous.”

Kadri’s role might drastically change even more given the upper-body injury to J.T. Compher in the first period on Saturday. But if he’s done anything in his bounce-back 2021-22 season, it’s proving that he can handle whatever is thrown at him. Be it more ice time, a larger role or different linemates seemingly every game.

He most certainly can.

Nichushkin rounds out the top-six

Forward Valeri Nichushkin appeared in Colorado’s season opener before an injury kept him out for nine games. In those games, the Avs dealt with a handful of injuries and couldn’t solidify what suddenly became a bare top-six forward group.

Nichushkin was expected to step into that second-line left-wing spot after the Avalanche lost both Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Saad in the offseason. And since his return Thursday, he’s done exactly that.

Nichushkin followed up his goal against Vancouver with an assist and a plus-2 rating on Saturday. His pass to Kadri on the Avs’ second goal was one of the prettier setups of the season. Nichushkin now has points in all three games he’s played.

The Shorthanded kings

In their Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2021 season, the Avs scored just once on the penalty kill. Through 11 games this year, they’ve already done it three times — two of which have come in consecutive games.

The pair of Darren Helm and Logan O’Connor has been about as aggressive a penalty-killing duo as Colorado has ever had. Helm fed O’Connor with a breakout pass to score shorthanded two nights after O’Connor did the same for him.

The Avalanche hadn’t scored shorthanded goals in consecutive games since December 2019.

__
Aarif Deen
 is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.

Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

Listen to “They’re Back” on Spreaker.

SHARE