The Avs have plenty to look forward to in 2023, but before 2022 was history, history repeated itself.
On Dec. 1, 2021, Nathan MacKinnon returned from an injury, playing for the first time in 25 days. It was a ray of light that turned out to be unceremonious for the Avalanche — they lost 8-3 to Toronto.
On the final day of 2022, MacKinnon returned from another injury, playing for the first time in 26 days. Colorado hockey fans greeted him with enthusiasm and renewed hope, but Toronto spoiled the party again with another blowout — 6-2 this time to send the Avalanche (19-13-3) into 2023 on a three-game losing streak.
One of the loudest Ball Arena crowds of the season showed out on New Year’s Eve, but the Avs didn’t consistently match that energy. They started flat again, falling behind 2-0 in the first 10 minutes then never catching up to the red-hot Maple Leafs (23-8-6).
The streak without an Avalanche lead at first intermission has reached 10 games, during which time opponents have outscored Colorado 10-2 in the opening period.
Andreas Englund entered the game with 57% of scoring chances going Colorado’s way with him on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. But the third-pairing defenseman was on the wrong end of both early Toronto goals. Mitch Marner exposed him with a magnificent stop move to score the first, then Englund lost a battle in the crease against Pierre Engvall.
J.T. Compher and Devon Toews both scored to cut the Avalanche deficit to one, but goals by Auston Matthews and T.J. Brodie scored 24 seconds apart gave Toronto a 5-2 lead with 4:36 remaining in the second period. That prompted Jared Bednar to pull his starting goalie for the first time this season, replacing Alexandar Georgiev with Jonas Johansson.
Georgiev has allowed 14 goals in 83 shots in the first three games back from the holiday break (4.7 goals per game allowed).
The intraconference matchup came 12 days after the Leafs and Avalanche did business together. They agreed on a trade of bottom-six forwards Dec. 19, sending Dryden Hunt to Toronto and Denis Malgin to Denver. Colorado envisioned more offensive upside from Malgin, and he showed it Saturday, almost scoring three times against his former team in the second period. He was credited with a secondary assist after his stick nearly put the finishing touches on Toews’ goal.
He also made a costly mistake. Attempting to fire the puck toward the net front, he was blocked by Matthews at the blue line. He raced back to retrieve it, but then gave it away in a defensive-zone battle. It left Georgiev unprotected — despite Erik Johnson’s best sliding efforts — for Matthews’ goal.
MacKinnon didn’t appear on the scoresheet in his return, but his first game back had ripple effects on the lineup. With him centering the top line again, Compher played 2C and Evan Rodrigues was shifted to wing. Logan O’Connor moved up to the second line; Malgin down to the third; and most interestingly, Alex Newhook moved from second-line wing to fourth-line center.