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Recap: Toronto Maple Leafs Spoil Nathan MacKinnon’s Return – Mile High Hockey

Often in hockey, the return of a star player from injury can spark a team to a strong game. That didn’t happen tonight for Colorado. Instead, though Nathan MacKinnon and the man he bumped off the top line JT Compher came out flying and put pressure on Toronto throughout the game, while the rest of the team seemed to sit back and watch them try to fend off the Leafs alone.

Not a recipe for success. Not a successful game. But here’s a recap anyway.

FIRST PERIOD

Colorado started strong with a good shift from Ben Meyer’s third line followed by MacKinnon generating chances for both Devon Toews and Cale Makar on his first shift back. But things took an immediate turn south as Calle Jarnkrok sprung Mitch Marner past Andreas Englund for a shot from the near dot that beat Georgiev’s blocker and snuck just inside the far post. 1-0 Leafs.

After a meek pushback shift from the third liners, Compher tripped up old buddy Alex Kerfoot in the far corner of the defensive zone and in the ensuing scramble Engvall located a blocked shot in Englund’s feet and threw it through a screen up over Georgiev’s blocker again. 2-0 Leafs.

Compher along with Alex Newhook and Dennis Malgin pushed back much harder after this second goal, and Malgin drew a holding the stick penalty on former Flames captain Mark Giordano with an aggressive forecheck.

The Avs powerplay set up nicely and actually looked dangerous, but after the first unit failed to score the second unit was ineffective and, even worse, just as Giordano was released from the box an extra forward found his way on the ice and Colorado was penalized for having too many men on the ice – a penalty they seem to take in way too many games.

The PK tried to let Auston Matthews in alone on Georgiev, but Devon Toews poked the puck off his stick at the last possible second.

Including that penalty kill, the Avs went 10 minutes with just one shot on goal, but then JT Compher got a mini breakaway and put one on net that generated a big rebound. Rodrigues gathered it and gave to LOC who fed JT in the high slot and he cut right and fired back left to beat Murray clean over the blocker. 2-1 Avs.

Relentless forechecking by Evan Rodrigues and Newhook forced an icing by Morgan Reilly but Avs couldn’t turn that faceoff into a chance before the period ended.

The Avs came out flying and played a great first five minutes, but after Marner’s goal they took a huge step back and let Toronto control the play. Engvall’s goal was scrummy, but the leafs earned it with consistent pressure. After a successful PK, JT Compher decided to turn on turbo mode and single handedly woke the Avs up with a great shift and beautiful goal to cut the Leaf’s lead in half heading into the intermission.

SECOND PERIOD

The second period was actually much better for Colorado, who mostly controlled play throughout. But two brutal plays back to back extended Toronto’s lead to 3 and ended Alex Georgiev’s night.

Right off the puck drop, Meyers slashed the hands of a Leaf’s player and set up Bunting’s PP conversion of a misplayed puck by John Tavares that forced Georgiev to overcommit.

MacKinnon tried to get things going the right direction, creating his own breakaway chance with sheer acceleration that forced Timothy Liljegren and hook and slash him to force his shot wide. Liljegren’s stick worked seemed like more of a slash than the slash that was called on Meyers, but the refs decided to let that go.

They couldn’t let go Kurtis MacDermid’s antics, however, as he was called for roughing when he punched former Av Conor Timmins in the head in front of the net for absolutely no reason.

On the PK, Rodrigues actually had the best chance when he toe dragged himself free in the high slot but fanned on the shot.

Back in the D zone, Auston Matthews shrugged off Compher in the corner, then the puck got tied up behind the net and EJ sent the Avalanche back to the penalty kill as he stuck a leg out that tripped up Kerfoot in the battle for it.

The Avs much maligned penalty kill held Toronto to zero shots on goal, and the Comper/Malgin/Newhook line rode that momentum to generate a ton of pressure on the forecheck again. JT then tapped a pass from the goal line to Toews who tried to feed Newy but it hit Matthews skate and went in! 3-2 Leafs.

This felt like the Avs finding an oasis in the middle of a penalty-filled desert, giddy to soak in some water and make a comeback, but it was just a mirage.

Malgin, forechecked hard by Matthews after retreating into the defensive zone after a blocked point shot, turned it over up the boards to Marner and let Matthews get open ice in the slot where he tucked Marner’s feed easily under Georgiev’s glove. 4-2 Leafs

Off the ensuing faceoff Toronto got the puck deep and Mackinnon threw it up the same boards to TJ Brodie, who blindly fired one on net that found its way over Georgiev’s glove and in. 5-2 Leafs.

That was curtains for Georgiev, as Jonas Johansson took his net and became the league leading 37th player used by Colorado this year.

Georgiev wasn’t abjectly bad but 5 goals on 23 shots is terrible, and that last one was absolutely unacceptable.

Colorado continued to push a bit more, as Lehkonen and then Rantanen both broke free for mini breakaways past Liljegren. On Rantanen’s, his slashing antics actually got called (third time’s the charm!), but the Avs powerplay was largely ineffective.

THIRD PERIOD

Not much to say about this period, frankly.

The Avalanche actually did have a decent pushback in the third, but just couldn’t find the goal they needed to spark the comeback.

Bednar pulled Johansson with a full 5 minutes to go, which had to be more about trying to get some offensive momentum going into the new year than actually trying to win as an empty netter for Toronto felt inevitable based on how the puck was bouncing all game – and despite Makar’s best efforts to backcheck on William Nylander that is exactly what happened.

All in all, a pretty terrible result from a halfway decent game. The Avalanche made a couple brutal errors turning the puck over and taking dumb penalties, and you just can’t do that against a good team like Toronto.

TAKEAWAYS

It’s nice to have MacKinnon back, but the dominant Mikko Rantanen we saw while Nate was out simply disappeared tonight. Splitting them up may be the best way to get the most out of both guys, as they are both incredible play drivers with the puck on their sticks but Rantanen defers to MacKinnon when they’re out there together and his playmaking disappears.

JT Compher was the player of the game in my book, as he was the only one causing havoc in the offensive zone tonight.

Kurtis MacDermid cannot be out to make silly and costly mistakes. Enough of this. Giving him any minutes is clearly a waste. I know he’s fun to have in the locker room or whatever, but maybe leave him in there when it’s time to actually play hockey.