SEATTLE — Spoiler alert for Jared Bednar.
Teammates have learned by now to never be too surprised by Nathan MacKinnon, but he finds ways to startle them with new skills anyway. His shootout-winning goal against former Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer was a sparkling example.
The Avs all said the same thing: “Rarely I see him go five-hole in a shootout,” as Mikko Rantanen put it.
“That was great. He doesn’t go five-hole too often,” a delighted Erik Johnson said. “Usually he goes high glove.”
ABSOLUTE LEGEND. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/TxvwVyLHvk
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) January 22, 2023
Then there’s Bednar. The seventh-year coach never watches shootouts live. He was looking away during the moment he tied the Avalanche record for winningest coach in franchise history.
“I just stare into the sky,” he said.
“Yeah, it is kind of, I guess. I’m not really superstitious. But I never watch a shootout until after. I’ll watch it tomorrow.”
Bednar still hadn’t checked out the replay when he met with reporters after the game, so MacKinnon’s deceptive five-hole maneuver was spoiled for him. That was the only goal scored by either team in three tense rounds between the Avalanche and Kraken, which ended with Bednar’s 265th career win.
He was only made aware that he was within one of Michel Bergeron’s record Saturday morning. He relied on his bench’s reaction to tell him he had tied it.
“Is that because I’ve been here for three times longer than (other coaches) have, or what?” Bednar joked afterward. “But listen, I said it this morning. It’s a privilege to coach and work in the NHL. It’s certainly a privilege to be able to do it for an organization like the Avalanche, who gave me my first crack in a head coaching position in the league. I don’t take it for granted, and I appreciate every day.”
Not only was record-tying victory cemented it dramatic fashion; it was the culmination of a perfect three-game road trip without Cale Makar in the lineup (upper body). Losing seven of eight games is a distant memory now for the Avalanche (25-17-3), who find themselves back in a playoff spot.
Bednar has maintained during this stretch that the turnaround actually started right before the low point of the slump, which isn’t as clean or palatable a way to picture it. Colorado lost to the league’s worst team in Chicago right before ripping off these five consecutive wins.
“Mentally, we were in it a little bit before that,” Bednar the philosopher reiterated. “But quite often as it goes, when you’re going through a tough streak, it doesn’t immediately turn around. … It can take a game or two. Sort of delayed results. And same thing when you’re winning.”
Sounds an awful lot like a metaphor for Bednar’s time in Denver, which started with a notoriously bad 48-point season in 2016-17. MacKinnon, Johnson and Rantanen were all around for those dark ages, which sure enough turned out to be the beginning of an ascent.
And six years later, MacKinnon is still surprising. Grubauer’s pads were still locked together even as MacKinnon approached the crease with a series of fake-outs Saturday night. But the star center opened up Grubauer at the last millisecond and threaded the needle.
Adding to the difficulty of the play was Grubauer’s grasp of MacKinnon’s arsenal. They were Avalanche teammates under Bednar for three years.
“Grubi knows our guys. I’m sure he expected Nate to go glove,” Johnson said. “Nate’s got a whole bag of tricks.”
“I’ve never seen him doing this kind of move,” said Francouz, who unlike Bednar does watch the shootouts live from the ice. “He kind of surprised me, and I’m pretty sure he surprised Grubi too because he knows him.”
Francouz played the shootout with patience and well-timed aggression, denying Seattle’s first and third shots with poke-check saves. He has never allowed a shootout goal in his NHL career, and were he faced with MacKinnon’s move, Francouz decided: “I think I would poke check him.”
But when Bednar was asked for his input on what makes the backup goalie so stellar in shootouts, the self-aware coach smirked: “You’ll have to ask him.”