Cale Makar is the hero, as the Avalanche attempt to right the ship

Mar 12, 2023, 10:16 AM

”No, I didn’t realize it until you just said that,” answered Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar.

It was a response to a question asking the young superstar if he knew the Avs had held the Coyotes shot-less in the third period and overtime session of their 3-2 win Saturday afternoon at Ball Arena.

It’s the first time since 2015 that the Avs have held an opponent without a shot in any period. The last foe to face that humiliation? You guessed it, the Coyotes.

This wasn’t the only deja vu moment on Saturday afternoon.

In game two of the Avalanche-Predators first-round playoff series last spring, it was Makar who beat Nashville goalie Connor Ingram with an overtime winner after the young goalie had made 49 saves in his first playoff start. In fact, it was only his fifth appearance in a NHL game. Makar repeated that feat on Saturday, as Ingram was in net this time for Arizona.

“I just got a drop from Nate,” said Makar detailing his game winner. “I felt their guy was going for a change in the middle of the ice, so I felt I could get enough speed to go around the outside. (It was) kind of a good spot to get a pick by Mikko (Rantanen) there and it worked out.”

Makar heaped praise on Ingram who seems to play his best against the Avalanche.

“He plays well here,” said Makar. “At some points, we make him look pretty good. Their team is also pretty good at collapsing, making sure there aren’t a lot of opportunities around the net. He obviously likes this building.”

However, he’s not exactly lighting it up in his new desert home.

Currently, Ingram is 5-15-5 for the Coyotes, as they find themselves 20 points behind the Avs in the standings. Just like when the lowly Sharks shuffled into town, the expectations were high that the Avs would easily bounce back after a bad loss to the Kings on Thursday night with a conclusive win.

Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar couldn’t possibly do more than he has to stoke the fire under his squad. Recently, he has challenged their motivation and desire to win. In the beginning of the game, it did not seem as the message had gotten through.

“The checking part of our game was terrible again tonight,” groused Bednar about the beginning of the game. “So, the buy in and commitment (eventually) to play the right way finally turned for us.”

One thing is for sure during this tenuous stretch, you can’t blame Denis Malgin. He’s been a fine pick up, netting six goals in 25 games with the Avs compared to two goals in 23 games that he had with Toronto.

The Swiss army knife picked up a loose puck along the boards early in the first. He made a nifty move to beat Ingram to make the score 1-0.

But, nothing is coming easy for Colorado this year.

The Coyotes tied the game as Jack McBain swept a loose rebound home past Avs goalie Alexander Georgiev. Deeper into the period, Clayton Keller dashed into the zone unabated beating Georgie short side making it 2-1, effectively silencing the blue-plate special crowd that had gathered for the four o’clock start. The Avs were caught standing around puck watching instead of aggressively back checking.

What in the world is happening to this team?

Too often, solid play is interrupted by pure laziness. It’s a confounding situation.

In the second period, Malgin thought he had his second goal of the night, but it was quickly waved off as it was deemed to be a hand pass from Matt Nieto. This was extreme bad luck as Nieto had zero intention of directing the puck to Malgin. His hand went high in the air just to knock down the puck and it happened to land in front of Malgin’s stick. It’s been that kind of bad luck run for the Avs.

Eventually, the Avs would tie the contest on a power play wrister from Nathan MacKinnon. Mighty Mac collected his 28th goal of the year and set a club record by scoring in nine straight home games, breaking the shared record of Michel Goulet from 1984 and Joe Sakic in 2001.

“Not a whole lot,” said MacKinnon when asked what he thought about setting a remarkable club record. “I was happy to find the back of the net after a slow season. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as Joe. Uhhh, maybe Goulet, but not Joe.”

Wait! What was that?!? MacKinnon cracking jokes?!? I guess the boys really were happy with the win.

When the Avs turned up the screws defensively, karma seemed to creep back in the building.

Halfway through the period with the game tied, the Jumbotron showed Nuggets De’Andre Jordan and Jeff Green sitting on the glass. Unlike Sean Payton’s refusal to pander to the crowd at the last Nuggets game when he was put on the big screen, D.J. turned it up.

To the howls of the fans, the rarely-used-on-the-court big man pounded a beer and then screamed in celebration at his liquid achievement. The crowd loved it. After the game, Jordan and Green, who live their lives on the other side of Ball Arena, were lost in the corridor and needed assistance to get back to their locker room. Now that was funny, too.

Overall, the Avs dominated play. But there was one significant slip.

As the Avalanche were killing a late second-period penalty, they were caught flat footed. Ingram snapped a long pass to Barrett Hayton who made a perfect feed to Schmaltz. The net was wide open but Georgiev made his best save in weeks gloving the golden opportunity.

The “Geor-Gee! Geor-Gee!” chants rose from the suddenly awakened crowd.

Despite a harder push than expected, the game was set up nicely to skate away with two points. The Avs poured on the pressure but couldn’t easily find the back of the net. However, the Coyotes were howling inept as they failed to get off a shot for the remainder of the game.

Ingram was playing one of his better games, stoning the Avs shot after shot. So despite being completely outplayed, the Coyotes were firmly in the game and the fans were on the edge of their seats right up until Makar lifted the roof with the game winner.

The Avs finished their recent four-game home stand with five out of eight possible points. Now, they hit the road for an important four-game East Coast road trip. With 18 road wins, the Avs are just as good away from Ball Arena as they are on home ice.

“I think you gotta play your game regardless of where you go,” said Bednar. “I feel like we’ve done a nice job on that over the years. We’ve had a dominant home record over the past few years. We aren’t quite there this year, but we’ve been really competitive on the road to the last few seasons. So, I don’t think it matters that much. I just think what matters is the belief in how we should play.”

Perhaps, this is the right time to get away. The Avs start the trip in Montreal on Monday night. Perhaps bonding as they break some French bread in Canada will do the trick to turn up the heat on the rest of the NHL.




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