Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen help Avalanche make stingy Jets look miserable (2024)

The Colorado Avalanche have made the Winnipeg Jets look more like the San Jose Sharks.

In a much-anticipated battle between the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season against the stingiest defensive club, the best offense is beating the best defense, and it isn’t particularly close.

Colorado has scored 22 goals in the first four games of this opening-round series, which the Avalanche leads 3-1. Game 5 is Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, and it will be the first of three match points for the Avs to win and advance to the second round.

Winnipeg’s No. 1 center Mark Scheifele said after a 5-1 loss in Game 4 that he felt the Avs were making adjustments and the Jets needed to do the same. His coach had a different response to why his team was got blown out for the second time in three days at Ball Arena.

“Wanna take penalties? Wanna play a three-quarter ice game? You’re playing right into their hands,” Winnipeg coach Rick Bowness said. “Our issues are self-inflicted.

“You want adjustments? Stay out of the box. Manage the puck better and go from there.”

The Avalanche has scored 19 goals on Connor Hellebuyck, the presumptive 2024 Vezina Trophy winner, with the other three going into an empty net. Bowness sat Hellebuyck in the third period Sunday after the Avs scored four times on him in the first two periods and called it a mercy pull, placing the blame squarely on the skaters in front of him.

It’s not just the goals. Colorado is dominating this series in nearly every facet, and could have swept it were it not for a few critical turnovers and a rough night for goalie Alexandar Georgiev in Game 1.

The Avs are creating 36.5 scoring chances per 60 minutes through four frames, per Natural Stat Trick. Not only is that the best in the league during the playoffs, it would easily be the best during the regular season.

In fact, the Sharks — who finished with 47 points — yielded the most scoring chances per 60 this year. They allowed 35.31.

The Avs are getting contributions from everyone. On a day where Cale Makar created a wonder goal, Valeri Nichushkin had a hat trick and Artturi Lehkonen scored for the fourth straight game, Avs coach Jared Bednar repeatedly praised his fourth line for its hard work and drawing two of the four penalties the Jets took in the second period.

But there’s been a common theme throughout the four games: Nichushkin and Lehkonen are cooking. It’s been a weird season for both, but this is what the Avs can be when both of them are at their best.

“If you really watch video and dissect video and look at how many plays (Lehkonen) makes on any given night on the offensive side, on the defensive side, he doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for what he does for our team,” Bednar said. “He’s so valuable to our team in every aspect power play, penalty kill, five on five, down goals up goal, scores big goals. I mean, this guy’s a relentless worker, this guy’s a warrior.

“(Nichushkin) really does the same thing. He’s available for you and rock solid in almost every area of the game as a 200-foot player. Players like that, you can’t even describe what they bring to the team because it’s competitive, hard-working skill that they play with. They can play with anybody. You can move them around the lineup and when you need something done, you need the job done, you can count on those two guys.”

The Avs aren’t even at full strength. Jonathan Drouin has evolved into a player who has some of the same attributes, but he’s out for at least this series with a lower-body injury.

Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen help Avalanche make stingy Jets look miserable (1)

Nichushkin and Lehkonen have combined for 10 goals in four games. They had 17 between them during the 20-game march to the Stanley Cup in 2022.

The Jets haven’t had a lot of answers for Colorado’s big guns — Makar, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have combined for four goals and 21 points. But Winnipeg has had none for Colorado’s second wave of weapons — Nichushkin, Lehkonen and Casey Mittelstadt have 11 goals and 18 points between them.

“I’ve gotten some great, great looks from the guys I’ve played with,” Lehkonen said. “(Mittelstadt) the past two games — he’s made a lot of good plays for me. I could have scored more. He keeps finding me, so just want to continue that.

“(Nichushkin) is a huge part of our squad. We all know what a great player he is, and it’s hard to stop the big man.”

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Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen help Avalanche make stingy Jets look miserable (2024)
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