Daily Camera (Boulder)
Ongoing dance of defensemen
Entering the third period, the situation felt as bleak as a lead can feel.
The Avalanche were up 2-1 with a prospect in net, having been outscored 12-4 in the last 11 third periods, and having scored only one goal without an empty net during that stretch. They were also 0-for-3 on the power play, adding to the feeling that goals would be difficult to find.
But Valeri Nichushkin and Bo Byram quenched the concerns with critical power-play goals, giving Colorado a 4-1 win Saturday in St. Louis — one day after the Blues traded away captain Ryan O’reilly.
He has been back for five games from his lower-body injury, technically. But the 21-year-old’s offensive gifts were finally back on full display in St. Louis. He scored his first goal since Oct. 21, then scored again.
It was the second multigoal game of Byram’s career, and his first on the road. Both goals were beauties, too.
In the second period, he jumped ahead on the rush and received a pass from Mikko Rantanen in stride, sniping it past Jordan Binnington’s glove side. His third-period goal also was perfectly placed on the glove side, but at the near post this time.
Now in just 16 games this season, Byram is tied for second-most goals among Avalanche defensemen. Devon Toews and Sam Girard also have four.
Cale Makar wasn’t at his sharpest in his return after missing the last four games (head). And that was before a worst-case scenario developed during the third-period power play on which Nichushkin eventually scored. Makar took a hit from St. Louis’ Alexei Toropchenko in the neutral zone, forcing him to gingerly skate to the bench and down the locker room tunnel immediately.
To the relief of the Avs, he returned to the ice before the game ended.
The Avalanche’s blue line never seems to look the same two consecutive games. While Makar returned, Josh Manson took a scheduled day off after returning from his own injury Wednesday at Minnesota. That meant Kurtis Macdermid and Andreas Englund formed the third patchwork pairing. off this time. Enter Justus Annunen, who was called up to make his second career start.
The timing was right to throw a prospect in net, with St. Louis having traded O’reilly just 15 hours before puck drop.
By doing so, Annunen helped make a bit of history: He was the 40th Avalanche player to appear in a game in 2022-23, breaking the franchise record for most players used in a single season. And they’re only 54 games in.