Fighting in the NHL isn’t what it was a decade ago. But two of the last remaining true enforcers were on the ice at Ball Arena on Tuesday and they gave the crowd an old-fashioned spirited bout in the second period.
The Avalanche defeated the New York Rangers 4-2 to win their fifth straight game on the same night defenseman Kurtis MacDermid got the better of Rangers forward Ryan Reaves.
They dropped the gloves midway through the second period at center ice. Both connected on a number of blows with MacDermid scoring the last few and the takedown to rile up the home crowd.
“We were pumped,” Avs superstar Nathan MacKinnon said , watching the fight from the bench. “Lot of excitement. Dermy is an awesome guy and he loves violence. He’s been looking for one but not many guys will fight him so it was fun to watch.”
When the Avalanche acquired MacDermid from the Seattle Kraken in the offseason, this was the role they had envisioned for him. MacDermid is the security blanket the Avs feel they were missing in their six-game loss to Reaves and the Vegas Golden Knights last season.
“I think he’s fantastic right now. Really,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of MacDermid. “The security he brings to our team. He’s a confident player right now.”
A natural defenseman, MacDermid, 27, has also been used at forward and inserted into the lineup in 14 of Colorado’s first 26 games. He has been leaned on as an injury replacement on multiple occasions but Bednar has also used MacDermid on nights where he can equalize a physical player on the opposing team.
“Regardless of the position he’s playing, he’s a big part of our team right now and he’s playing well,” Bednar said.
13 for Makar
Shortly after Mikko Rantanen opened the scoring with his team-leading 13th goal of the season, defenseman Cale Makar added his 13th to tie Rantanen and surpass his career-high. Makar scored 12 goals in 57 games in his Calder-Trophy winning 2019-20 season. Last season Makar was the only defenseman in the NHL to record a point per game, scoring eight goals and 44 points in 44 games. He passed the eight-goal mark in his 15th game this season.
His 13 goals in 23 games are a first in the NHL since 1988-89 when Winnipeg defenseman Dave Ellett had 15 in his first 23 games.
An exceptional finish for Nichushkin
Forward Valeri Nichushkin scored the eventual game-winning goal late in the second period but it was his crucial second tally that sealed the victory.
Trailing 3-1 late in the third, the Rangers pulled their goalie and scored to pull within a goal with 2:02 remaining. They tried the 6-on-5 attack again and nearly tied it before Colorado was able to clear the zone. With the ensuing faceoff at center ice, the Rangers returned goalie Alexandar Georgiev to the net but it didn’t help their cause.
Nazem Kadri won the faceoff for the Avs and Nichushkin battled aggressively for the puck with reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. Nichushkin pick-pocketed Fox and scored on a breakaway to seal the victory with 37 seconds remaining.
“His work away from the puck and checking pucks back and stealing pucks on the forecheck and his habits to his game are exceptional,” Bednar said of Nichushkin. “When he has the puck it’s hard to get it from him and he takes it from everybody.”
All he does is produce. MacKinnon had assists on both Rantanen and Makar’s goals to reach 20 assists in a career-best 16 games. He has just three goals this season but produces almost every night. In his 16 games, MacKinnon has only been held off the scoresheet once, a loss in Columbus on Nov. 6.
MacKinnon’s 1.44 points per game are sixth-best in the NHL and second on the Avs behind Kadri (1.61).
Leading 3-1 in the third period, the Avalanche capitalized on a power-play goal from J.T. Compher to put the game away with 7:30 remaining. Or so they thought.
The Rangers challenged for goalie interference and were successful in what was a lengthy review. Compher, who cleaned up a rebound in the crease, did not seem to make much if any contact with Georgiev.
“Comph didn’t look like he was in the crease,” Makar said. “I mean if I’m a goalie looking at that now I’m probably just sliding into guys and making a little bit of contact. So it’s a little bit of an interesting call. But at the end of the day we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
The Rangers were allowed two minutes to make a decision on if they would challenge the call after the puck went in — something that didn’t sit well with the Avs.
“Feels like when I’m thinking about challenging stuff, I can’t even get to the second replay and the refs are leaning over the board ‘You challenging, you challenging,’ and they had two full minutes and no one’s even saying anything,” Bednar said. “The refs didn’t even go over to their bench. It’s too long.”
Rookie defenseman Justin Barron made his NHL debut. The Avalanche’s 2020 first-round pick was sporting his new No. 20 jersey. Barron was a plus-1 in 9:10 playing mostly on the Avs’ third pair alongside MacDermid.
The 20-year-old was called up after defenseman Devon Toews was placed on COVID protocol Tuesday morning. In 14 games with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League, Barron had three goals and nine points.
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