The Avalanche’s one position untouched by injury through 25 games is goaltender — mercifully so, if just for the sake of a delicious rematch.
The last time Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin met, they dueled for three periods, overtime and then some Oct. 25 at Madison Square Garden. With 44 saves and a game-clinching penalty shot denial, Georgiev outdid the goalie he used to back up. So of course they found themselves in the same shootout showdown Friday night, with Shesterkin prevailing this time in a 2-1 Avalanche loss to the Rangers on Friday.
Georgiev saved 28 shots. Shesterkin stopped 41, including a barrage from the Avalanche in overtime. His share of saves was more dazzling this time around, but Artemi Panarin netted the game-winner after Mikko Rantanen and J.T. Compher couldn’t convert their shootout opportunities for the Avalanche.
The Avs (13-10-2) celebrated the return of wing Valeri Nichushkin, who joined the top line with Mikko Rantanen and Alex Newhook. The last time he played was that thrilling win in New York, coincidentally. Then he disappeared with a poorly timed ankle injury, disrupting his blistering start with seven goals in as many games. The Avalanche lost 1-0 in the first game without him.
Nichushkin quickly made sure his return was noticeable, screening off Shesterkin to help Rantanen’s one-timer give Colorado a 1-0 lead at 14:38 of the first period. Nichushkin played 22 minutes of ice time.
He’s the first of what Colorado hopes will be many reinforcements on the way by the new year. Forwards Evan Rodrigues and Darren Helm skated with the team in red no-contact jerseys Friday morning. Artturi Lehkonen also practiced and is nearing a return as he jumps through the hoops of concussion protocol.
For now, though, coach Jared Bednar’s task is to work with what he’s got. Colorado’s AHL call-ups seemed to buzz with more energy than they had in any other game since the injuries started piling up.
Rookie Jean-Luc Foudy savored opportunities to accelerate into open ice. He skated confidentially and created multiple dangerous scoring chances, including one where he stole the puck in the offensive zone and tried to thread a pass to Charles Hudon at the last second. It didn’t connect, but Hudon made his own skilled move 10 seconds later to set up a near-goal. Ben Meyers also had a golden scoring opportunity, two nights after he was on the ice for two surrendered goals in his NHL return.
But as the game wandered into overtime, a New York third-period scoring chance was the one that lingered in the air. Cale Makar bothered Barclay Goodrow from behind as Goodrow went hard toward Georgiev’s net with a breakaway. He went tumbling to the ice, but no penalty shot was given as Makar returned to the bench, his shift over.
The referees didn’t call much of anything. Both teams only had one power play, a breath of fresh air for the Avs after they were called for 19 penalties in the last four games.