It wasn’t easy and, at a few points, looked as though the Minnesota Wild would inevitably tie the game. But J.S.Giguere was up to the task yet again this season and the Avalanche walked out of the Xcel Energy Center with an important two points. They did all of this without Paul Stastny, who has enjoyed a rejuvenated season heading into a contract situation.
It’s important for the Avalanche to be able to win games like this; the good teams find ways to win even when they’re getting outplayed or struggling with injuries. That’s exactly what they did on Friday night.
Paul Walnuts is expected to return to the lineup tonight in the second half of a home-and-home with the Wild as the Avalanche continue to try to get back to 100% health. But we’ll cover everything we learned from Friday night’s 3-1 victory right now.
It’s hard not to credit the arrivals of head coach Patrick Roy and goaltending coach Francois Allaire with the play of Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. The latter has always flashed the talent but never really enjoyed a strong season until now and the former has had a history of strong play but that was beginning to feel like long ago.
Now, Giguere is the first goaltender in franchise history to start the season with wins in his first six decisions. He has been absolutely outstanding in each and every start, posting a 1.62 GAA and .949 save percentage with a pair of shutouts. He was again incredible last night, turning aside 27 of 28 and making a few huge saves that kept the lead with the Avalanche.
Thanks to the play of Giguere, the Avalanche have a luxury not many teams in the NHL have: a backup goalie who consistently gives them a chance to win when he plays and, so far, steals games at times. If the Avalanche can go into each and every game feeling that their goaltending can not only keep them in it, but steal a few wins, that’s a huge confidence boost and changes the way they approach games.
Even if Zach Parise hadn’t returned to the lineup far sooner than expected (he left the November 26th game with a foot contusion, believed to be gone for 2-3 weeks only to return three days later), this is still a good team that can make some noise in the post-season if they’re healthy when they arrive.
Josh Harding was phenomenal all night and the ones that beat him were the kind of goals that beat even the best — lots of bodies in front, leading to either a deflection or an unseen shot. Anything he saw, he stopped and the Wild made it relatively easy on him as he only saw 20 shots on the night.
The Wild are a fantastic defensive team with good size and mobility, they keep Harding clean and let him do his thing and they have some talent in the offensive end when everyone is around. This pass from Neiderreiter was a thing of beauty.
This team has a high ceiling if they can add a piece or two down the stretch.
Nathan MacKinnon has sort of disappeared lately as rookies are wont to do from time to time. This is a tough enough league for the veterans, but when you’re a teenager used to dominating your peers and you’re suddenly thrust into a world of giant talented guys, it takes a little time to adjust to the speed and physicality.
That being said, MacKinnon has been showing flashes in each game. He breaks out that world class speed from time to time, reminding you of just what kind of specials skills he possesses and why he was the first pick in the draft. Injuries have forced his movement all over the lineup so hopefully, when Stastny is back, he can return to the third line where he’s able to do his thing with as little opponent supervision as possible.
He did well to get his stick on a Gabriel Landeskog shot from the point, picking up what would eventually be the game-winner. I like that Roy is being patient with him and not flipping him all over the place each game he struggles. The future is very bright for young MacKinnon; it’s just a matter of letting him grow.
Next up: 11/30 vs Minnesota
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