BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jared Bednar is generally to-the-point in his evaluations, but he doesn’t often deal in superlatives. When he does, it’s worth listening.
Especially when he’s assessing an aspect of the Avalanche’s game that’s already superlative, without needing his superlatives.
Colorado’s power play is the best in the NHL and has been for the entire first quarter of the season (33.8%, 26 of 77). When 5-on-5 play falters, the top power play unit trades sweaters for capes. It scored a 5-on-3 goal Thursday night to tie the Sabres. Forty-nine seconds remained with an extra skater.
“That was the best our power play has looked all year,” Bednar said, “in that 45 seconds.”
The first goal had been scored by Nathan MacKinnon, assisted by Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen. The usual suspects. Artturi Lehkonen and J.T. Compher accompanied them on the ice. Compher is replacing an injured Evan Rodrigues on the top unit, but he’s not a shabby backup — he had already scored his own power play goal in the first period.
As Buffalo’s penalty box became twice as spacious, the same five Avs remained on the ice. Tie game. Tough to stay focused after already scoring?
“Attack mentality. I don’t think it was tough for them,” Bednar said. “I think they were hungry to go get another one.”
“Stepping up in big moments,” Compher said, describing the mindset. “Especially when we’re missing guys.”
The Avs did not rest on their laurels. Bednar has been frequently double-shifting the top unit, sometimes even for the entire duration of a penalty, because “that’s kind of where we’re at,” he said last week.
The Sabres never possessed the puck long enough to clear it. Colorado maintained the zone but didn’t stagnate, weaving in and out of open positions on the ice while navigating the puck. The closest Buffalo got to freedom was brief possession down low in the final 10 seconds. Lehkonen pestered. Makar prevented the attempted clear at the blue line — corralling the puck in an underrated play that he made look easy.
“There’s more to the power play than just tic-tac-toeing it around the ice,” Bednar said. “You look at what Lehky does, that’s part of his job as a middle man: to jump in on the retrievals and keep pucks alive until we can come over and support it. Get it back out to Cale and keep working with the puck.”
While one coach saw a unit reaching the peak of its powers after a 20-game buildup, the other was struck by a collection of talent that opponents have come to expect will be fully synchronized at all times.
“Those guys have played together for I don’t know how many years now — Makar is probably three, but he is obviously an elite player — but there’s just a lot of elite players out there,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “They get in a rhythm, and that wasn’t their first power play of the game. So you could see them gain a little bit more confidence as it went. Yeah, they’re tough.”
The Avalanche had scored a power play goal in eight consecutive games and 10 of the last 11 before being shut out Tuesday in Winnipeg. The collective response? Special teams dominance in Buffalo. It was the kind of game that has inherently favored Colorado: a season-high 13 combined penalties were called, leading to 30 minutes being spent on special teams.
In the last three regular seasons, the Avs combined for five games with at least three power play goals. They already have two of those games this season.
“High-end players,” Granato said. “We just gave them too many opportunities to feel good about their game.”