Cale Makar’s 50th career goal defied physics.
The 24-year-old Avalanche defenseman defies the conventions of his position, but even he didn’t know what he was doing with that goal, the first in Colorado’s 4-1 win over Carolina on Saturday night.
It started with a shot going wide. Makar shot from just inside the blue line, which lined up almost perfectly with the center of the net. The puck turned slightly to the left and flew past Artturi Lehkonen. It missed the goalpost intended for the end boards by a couple of inches.
But when it hit the glass, it didn’t obey any law of expected angular direction.
Instead, the puck bounced shakily over the edge of the goal. It landed in the corner of the goal, bounced off goalkeeper Antti Raanta’s left skate and trickled into the net.
Just like Makar designed it.
“I thought it went right through Lehky’s arm and he was sucking in his bowels. Kind of let it be,” 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-half lead in their fourth straight win, this time against a fierce Stanley Cup contender.
“It would be a different game today because of the way they play, what they throw at you and how they defend,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. “A lot of the pre-scouts and game schedules are the same because they all play 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 strong team” going into the matchup. Carolina plays a fast-paced style reminiscent of Colorado, and all four lines have the upper hand in terms of expected goal percentage.
“With our injuries,” Bednar previously said, “that’s the number one issue.”
The last of these happened in the game: offensive-defense rover Kurtis MacDermid, who played defense on Saturday, retired early with a lower body injury, and fourth-row center Sampo Ranta went to the dressing room late after being hit in the face was. “Obviously (the depth of defense) might be tested more here,” Makar said. “Hopefully Dermy is okay.”
It was all in one day as Gabriel Landeskog joined Darren Helm on long-term injury reserve to make room for the cap.
The responsibility would clearly lie with Colorado’s top players. You have delivered.
They’ll need it again when the Avalanche and Hurricanes meet in a rematch next Thursday in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Makar averaged his career 196 points in 191 games. The fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 career points was Sergei Zubov. He needed 207 games.
The top line of the Avs was dynamic. Mikko Rantanen set up three Avalanche goals and then scored his own in front of an empty net. The second was arguably his most impressive game of the season. He laid a big punch along the end cushions, parried a defender to keep the puck in possession while running into the left circle, then passed to Makar. Clean shot.
“When I saw him throw it in the corner, I was like, ‘That was a pretty good fight,'” Makar said. “… Definitely Mikko.”
The third assist was a rematch of a favor. Nathan MacKinnon had lined up Rantanen for weeks, but the center only had three goals to his tally. Rantanen passed MacKinnon this time to end a two-for-one. MacKinnon added an assist of his own.
“He had a lot of chances,” said Rantanen. “Sometimes you don’t get bounces. The first one went through the goalie’s legs and somehow it didn’t go in.”
The most refreshing contribution, however, was not a top-liner: the Avs won their first game of the season with backup goalkeeper Pavel Francouz at the net. He only had to make 22 saves, aided by a perfect five penalty kills. Avalanche opponents have only netted on six of their last 33 power plays.