Mikko Rantanen’s best goal of the season is the one that doesn’t exist.
There are plenty to choose from — he ranks sixth in the NHL with 23 — but his would-be 24th had casual style points. Rantanen followed his shot and batted the rebound out of the air, floating the puck over Coyotes goalie Connor Ingram for a breathtakingly sudden game-tying goal.
Only it wasn’t to be: Cale Makar had lost possession of the puck during his zone entry, making him offside and the goal void after review. Instead of two Avalanche goals in a 35-second span to tie Arizona, it remained a 3-2 deficit that turned into a 6-3 loss. The seventh-place Coyotes ended a four-game win streak for Colorado (19-12-2).
“At parts of the game, we played well,” Avalanche forward J.T. Compher told Altitude TV. “But at the end of the day, we had a chance to tie the game up, and they took their game to the next level and we didn’t.”
The Avalanche’s first meeting of the season with the Coyotes was also their first visit to Mullett Arena, Arizona State’s facility that has transformed into an unusually quaint NHL venue this season due to the Coyotes’ lease agreement ending with Gila River Arena.
The Avs didn’t get much time to soak in the novelty. In accordance with NHL collective bargaining agreement rules, the team had to travel to Arizona the day of the game, as not to meddle with the league’s holiday break. Puck drop was a few hours after the flight landed, and the Avs played like it. Arizona fired the first six shots on goal to claim an early lead.
“I didn’t like our start,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Sloppy right away and just gave them too much room.”
At second intermission, the Coyotes led 4-2 on 23 shots. Avalanche goalie Alexandar Georgiev had only allowed eight goals in his previous 160 shots faced. Arizona’s fourth left him visibly frustrated; he was screened and didn’t see J.J. Moser’s wrister whiz by until the last second. Five minutes after the Avs thought they had tied it on Rantanen’s disallowed goal, the Coyotes doubled the lead with 3:22 left in the period.
“I think he was like the rest of our team: probably not good enough,” Bednar said of Georgiev’s night.
Rantanen, meanwhile, was not to be denied in the end. He scored his 24th goal again to narrow a 5-2 gap in the third period, deflecting in an Erik Johnson shot.
“The urgency in our game didn’t pick up until the third period,” Bednar said, “when it was too late.”
Rantanen is now in a three-way tie for fourth in the league, one behind Bo Horvat for bronze. He has scored exactly one of every four Avalanche goals this season.
So it goes without saying that Colorado needs more scorers to step up. If there was a silver lining in the desert, it was Cale Makar showing signs of emerging from his drought. He entered the holiday break with one goal in the previous 14 games, but his second shot on target Tuesday was a clean finish of J.T. Compher’s beautiful pass across the slot. Makar’s eighth goal and 31st point of the season cut it to 3-2 at the time and was the prelude to Rantanen’s non-goal.
Evan Rodrigues also scored and was the Avalanche’s most active presence in the first period. He slammed a one-timer past Ingram nine seconds into a Colorado power play to negate Arizona’s opening goal. He also showed off his passing prowess yet again with a difficult centering play that nearly led to an Alex Newhook goal. He found open space in the slot for another dangerous chance at the end of the period.
Rodrigues has four points in six games since his return from injury, plus a shootout-winning goal. He has assisted two game-winners during that span.