You likely won’t catch Avalanche superstar Cale Makar speaking in high regard about his play — even when he scores perhaps the most beautiful goal the NHL has seen from a defenseman in years.
“It was a little bit lucky, to be honest,” Makar said. “Their D, or whoever the guy was on me, was kind of overcommitting for a cycle up top so I just decided I try and take it to the net.”
Makar’s instincts to make something out of nothing — to turn on a dime and fake out Chicago forward Kirby Dach and even the cameraman — were not signs of luck. It was the type of pure skill only this generation’s Bobby Orr could pull off.
“Spur of the moment thing. You’re not really thinking. It’s just in the moment,” Makar said.
Makar put on the brakes to leave Dach in the dust and went on to challenge goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Not having much time to decide what to do, he flipped the puck to his backhand and put it top shelf into the gaping net.
“When you’re in the moment it just kind of happens,” Makar said of his exceptional finish to cap the Avs’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Blackhawks. “I initially wanted to pass it. When they gave me a little bit of space I tried to take it to the backside but Fleury was so far out, I wasn’t able to do that. So I decided to cut short-side.”
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 5, 2022
Just how great was Makar’s play? Fellow blueliner Erik Johnson scored two goals in regulation to give the Avs a chance to play for the extra point. But he wanted nothing more than to hype his younger teammate who he calls “modest and humble” for his highlight-reel tally.
“In my mind, that was one of the best goals of the year,” Johnson said.
Makar’s overtime goal, the first of his career, was his fourth game-winner of the season. He leads the Avs and all NHL blueliners in that department despite playing just 25 games. Makar’s 14 goals put him on pace to score the most of an NHL defenseman in more than three decades and his 1.12 points per game trail only teammate Devon Toews (1.17).
Makar’s goal-scoring pace is the stuff of legends. He was the only defenseman that scored at a point-per-game last season and likely would’ve won the Norris Trophy had he not missed 12 games in a shortened season.
This type of output is traditionally reserved for more one-dimensional defensemen. The last 30-goal scorer the NHL had was Washington’s Mike Green 13 years ago. Despite eclipsing 70 points in just 68 games, Green did not win the Norris Trophy, largely because of his inability to play a more well-rounded game.
Makar doesn’t have that issue. And for a 23-year-old, there is still ample room for improvement.
“The evolution of his game, he’s got to be relied upon for more than just creating offense and he understands that,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Makar. “Smart players are going to be good at whatever you assign them to do. He’s got room for improvement for sure but he is a good solid defenseman for us.”
That seems to be a theme among the rest of the Avs. Makar’s greatness has not yet reached its limit.
“He’s going to keep getting better, which is the scary part,” Johnson said.
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