VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Jared Bednar is closing in on history and closing with distinct flourishes.

The same coach who has used a power play unit featuring three defensemen this season chose to deploy five forwards for a 5-on-3 on Friday night — twice.

It worked both times.

It’s rare enough for any team to get multiple 5-on-3 chances in the same game. The Avalanche did in Vancouver — both lasting about 50 seconds — and they took advantage both times to account for half their goals in a 4-1 win.

The Avs’ four-game win streak has Bednar at 264 wins in his NHL career entering Saturday night, within one of matching Michel Bergeron for winningest coach in Avalanche/Nordiques franchise history.

He made the five-forward decision sound like an obvious one: “Just putting our most talented guys out there,” he said. The lineup for both goals: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Evan Rodrigues, Valeri Nichushkin and J.T. Compher.

It was a subtle example of Bednar’s ability to mold strategy around the Avalanche’s circumstances. When forwards were sustaining injuries almost on a daily basis earlier this season, Bednar designed the unusual power play unit with three defensemen. (The unit scored during a game in Finland.) Colorado’s D-core was deeper than its collection of forwards, especially with so much offensive talent on the blueline.

This was the opposite: Makar was injured and out a second consecutive game Friday, while Josh Manson and Bo Byram have been missing for weeks. The lineup was missing three of its top four defensemen. Suddenly, a roster that has looked desperately stuck between the NHL and AHL during line rushes in recent weeks was becoming entirely reliant on forwards.

Makar is a right-handed shot, so Bednar’s decision-making process was rooted in wanting to replace that with another righty. Compher matched the description. He also made sense because he’s one of the team’s most trustworthy faceoff winners, Bednar said. With about 50 seconds of 5-on-3 time both occasions, winning the draw to sustain offensive zone time was extra important.

MacKinnon operated the point surgically on the first try. A one-timer was discarded toward the left faceoff circle with a kick save, but when the puck rotated back to MacKinnon, he whipped it toward the net-front again.

Nichushkin’s big body was occupying crease space, and his stick managed to tap a pinballing puck at some point. Then Vancouver’s Tyler Myers accidentally backheeled the puck into the net — a redirection that felt emblematic of the directions of both teams’ seasons.

Bednar described it as a sort of karmic reward for the hard work put in by Nichushkin, who hadn’t scored in two months while recovering from ankle surgery and experiencing setbacks. Myers bluntly stated that with coach Bruce Boudreau essentially waiting to be fired, it felt like “the mindset and the mood kind of got to us tonight.”

“They’re trying to take care of the shooters up top,” Bednar said. “And (MacKinnon) finds the seam. Talented player making a great play.”

The other 5-on-3 goal also wouldn’t have happened without another smart coaching choice. After Vancouver’s second penalty set up the deja vu, Bednar used a timeout.

The top power play unit had already been skating for an extended shift. The five forwards Bednar wanted on the ice again wouldn’t be effective without a chance to regroup. Timeouts are often preserved for late in close games so a coach can detail his 6-on-5 aspirations, but the time was right for Bednar in the second period.

“I thought if we can give them a breather and they’re able to get some clarity on what they wanted to do on the bench,” he said, “and just take a breather and have a talk with each other, seemed like a good time for me.”

Ten seconds remained in the opportunity when a MacKinnon one-timer from Rodrigues went wide. But the puck bounced to Rantanen from behind the net, where Vancouver couldn’t afford to place any of its penalty killers. Rantanen shot from an impossible angle, but it bounced off the goalie this time. More puck luck, created by a relentless shift.

The Avs head to Seattle with goals scored by 3-D and 5-F units this season. Maybe Bednar will try a two-goalie power play next.

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Bennett Durando
2023-01-22 03:12:24
Boulder Daily Camera
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