Cale Makar’s 50th career goal defied physics.
The 24-year-old Avalanche defenseman defies the conventions of his position, but not even he knew what he was doing with this goal, the first of Colorado’s 4-1 win against Carolina on Saturday night.
It started as an off-target shot. Makar fired from just inside the blue line, lined up almost perfectly with the middle of the net. The puck veered slightly to the left, zipping past Artturi Lehkonen. It missed the goalpost by a few inches, destined for the end boards.
But when it struck the glass, it didn’t obey any laws of anticipated angular direction.
Instead the puck took a wonky bounce over the top of the goal. It landed in the crease, ricocheted off the back of goalie Antti Raanta’s left skate and trickled into the net.
Just how Makar drew it up.
“I thought it went right through Lehky’s arm, and he sucked in his gut. Kind of let it go by him,” Makar said. “And then just a good bounce of the glass, I guess. I didn’t really see it.”
He scored again three minutes later to give Colorado (8-4-1) a 2-0 first-period lead in its fourth consecutive win, this one against a fierce Stanley Cup contender.
“It was going to be a different game today because of the way they play, and what they throw at you and the way they defend,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “A lot of the pre-scouts and game plans are the same because everyone plays such a similar style, but tonight was a little bit different. So I thought our guys were really focused.”
Bednar described the Hurricanes as a “really deep team” entering the matchup. Carolina plays a an up-tempo style reminiscent of Colorado’s, and all four lines have the upper hand in expected goals percentage.
“With our injuries,” Bednar said beforehand, “that’s the No. 1 issue.”
The latest of which occurred in-game: offense-defense rover Kurtis MacDermid, playing defense Saturday, exited early with a lower body injury, and fourth-line center Sampo Ranta went to the locker room late after being hit in the face. “Obviously (the defensive depth) is going to be tested even more here, maybe,” Makar said. “Hopefully everything is OK with Dermy.”
It was all on a day when Gabriel Landeskog joined Darren Helm on the long-term injury reserve to clear cap space.
The onus would clearly be on Colorado’s top players. They delivered.
They’ll need to again when the Avalanche and Hurricanes meet for a rematch in Raleigh, N.C., next Thursday.
Makar brought his career point total to 196 in 191 games. The fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 career points was Sergei Zubov. It took him 207 games.
The Avs’ top line was dynamic. Mikko Rantanen assisted three Avalanche goals then scored his own on an empty net. The second was arguably his most impressive play of the season. He laid a big hit along the end boards, fought off a defender to keep possession of the puck while skating into the left circle then passed to Makar. Clean shot.
“When I saw him throw him down in the corner, I was like, ‘That was a pretty good battle,’” Makar said. “… All Mikko for sure.”
The third assist was returning a favor. Nathan MacKinnon had been setting up Rantanen for weeks, but the center only had three goals to his name. Rantanen passed to MacKinnon this time to finish a two-on-one. MacKinnon added an assist of his own.
“He’s had a lot of chances,” Rantanen said. “Sometimes you don’t get bounces. In the first he went through the goalie’s legs and somehow it didn’t go in.”
The most refreshing contribution wasn’t a top-liner, though: The Avs won their first game of the season with backup goalie Pavel Francouz in net. He only needed to make 22 saves, aided by a perfect five penalty kills. Avalanche opponents have scored on only six of their last 33 power plays.
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