A closer look at Cale Makar’s debut and first NHL goal
It’s a testament to how comfortable Cale Makar looked Monday night in his NHL debut that CBC play-by-play commentator Rick Ball mistook him for Erik Johnson on the 3-0 goal. But ask anyone who’s watched Makar play for the UMass Minutemen this season, and they’ll probably tell you that the game he had wasn’t all that surprising. If anything, Makar becoming the first defenseman in NHL history to score his first NHL goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs is proof of just how special a player he is — and a sign of things to come for the Colorado Avalanche.
When it was all said and done, Makar played 21 shifts for an on-ice total of 14:19. He finished the night with one goal, two shots on goal, one takeaway, and two blocked shots. Makar had a 57.69 CF% at 5-on-5. Jared Bednar made sure to heavily shelter him, as Makar didn’t start a single shift in the defensive zone. Instead, he had seven zone starts in the offensive zone and three in the neutral zone at even-strength.
As far as special teams, Makar played 2:19 on the powerplay and zero minutes shorthanded, but his first NHL goal was scored at even-strength. Makar did play in all situations for coach Greg Carvel at UMass, so he’ll probably get more extended time penalty killing next season.
Makar played with Patrik Nemeth on the third pair, playing a total of 5:33 together at 5-on-5. They had a 83.33 CF% when on the ice together, but Makar was at 36.36 CF% on shifts at 5-on-5 without Nemeth. Makar was also often on the ice with Tyson Barrie at 5-on-5, as they played 3:07 together. However, this pair didn’t have much success — they only had a 33.33 CF% when together, and Makar actually had better possession numbers when he was playing without Barrie (75.00 CF%).
As soon as Makar hit the ice for his first shift, the fans’ cheers doubled in intensity. He retrieved the puck behind goalie Philipp Grubauer and got a massive ovation from the crowd at the Pepsi Center and waited for his teammates to get prepared to start a rush up the ice. He probably would’ve started the rush by himself if he was back in Amherst, but he passed off to Patrik Nemeth instead to start the breakout.
However, Makar wasn’t afraid to use his skating and hands to create opportunities for offense. He stole the puck at the Flames blueline and dangled around players to try to continue possession. A defensive zone clearing by Makar sent Nathan MacKinnon down the other way, who ended up drawing a penalty on the play. As the game wore on, Makar would gather the puck behind his own net and start the rush by himself instead of defaulting to his teammates.
Makar wasn’t afraid to use his body, either, as he dumped a Flames player in his own end to regain possession. As Makar got more comfortable in the game, he would circle down into the offensive zone at times when the Avalanche were cycling the puck. He was aware and smart enough to circle back when it looked like his teammates were about to lose possession and the play would turn the other way. When the puck came back to him at the point, he didn’t try anything fancy like we’ve seen him do in college, but would simply send the puck back towards the net instead.
All right, let’s break down exactly how this goal came together. With photos!
When Alexander Kerfoot gains possession to begin the rush, Makar is closer to his own goal than the Avs blueline.
Makar senses that Michael Frolik, who is the closest Flame to him in the above photo, isn’t going to follow him closely up the ice, so he takes advantage and joins the rush:
Honestly, the Flames didn’t do the greatest job of defending this Avalanche rush, because they had equal numbers back, yet somehow Backlund didn’t realize Makar was all alone. But MacKinnon did!
MacKinnon drops the puck off for Makar, and Backlund realizes that it’s now an odd-man rush and he has to get over to cover him.
He actually does a really good job, because by the time Makar reaches the hash marks, Backlund is pretty much draped all over him.
But Makar isn’t phased by Backlund’s, uh, back check. He pushes into Backlund to open up a better shooting lane and lets his signature wrist shot go, which beats Mike Smith five-hole:
And the rest, of course, is history.
The Perfect Debut
Makar arrived in Denver and played exactly as advertised. Penalties prevented him from getting on the ice for much of the third, but he made the most of his shifts. He got his stick into shooting lanes to deflect pucks away. He joined the rush on several occasions and even went for a 200-foot skate a couple of times. Rolling pucks didn’t phase him. Even when puck battles forced him to his knees, Makar was still able to regain possession and get the puck out of harm’s way. Makar was never on the wrong end of a play and made everything look easy.
Cale Makar’s first career NHL game was the kind that most people dream of having. And we can’t wait to see what he does next.
All statistics are from Natural Stat Trick. Screenshots are from CNBC’s game broadcast.