At only 21 years old, Samuel Girard has continued to grow and mature into a trusted defenseman on both sides of the puck for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs acquired the rear guard on Nov. 5, 2017 in a three-team trade that included the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators. Since then, he has appeared in 194 consecutive regular-season games, the longest active ironman streak on the Avalanche and will play his 200th contest in the NHL tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It means a lot, healthy, so I am going to [knock] on some wood," Girard said of the milestone. "We got a good group of guys here, and they helped me a lot to become a better player on the ice and better person off ice. I am going to enjoy that game tonight, and it's going to be a fun game."
He is in the best offensive stretch of his young career having recorded nine assists in his last five games. Girard had three straight multi-point games (Dec. 31 - Jan. 4), becoming only the third Avalanche defenseman (fourth time) to accomplish the feat and the first since John-Michael Liles from Dec. 23-29, 2008.
On Jan. 2 against the St. Louis Blues, Girard registered a career-high four assists, which tied the franchise record for assists by a defenseman in a single game.
"I think the game before all those points I wasn't moving my feet, I wasn't shooting the puck lots, so that's what I did the last few games," he said. "Just bring the puck on the net and move my feet, that's what I did."
Video: Samuel Girard talks about Avs before 200th game
The Roberval, Quebec, native played his first five NHL games with the Predators and recorded three points (one goal, two assists) before joining the Avalanche. He put up 23 total points (four goals, 19 assists) in his rookie season and followed that up with 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) last year. Only 44 games into the current campaign, Girard already has 23 points (one goal, 22 assists).
"I think he has done a real good job of becoming a top defender and being able to play against the other team's top guys on a nightly basis," said head coach Jared Bednar. "You see the talent and skating ability he has. I would have wanted to see him produce a little bit more offensively, to join the rush a little bit more, to be more dangerous in the offensive zone and I think at least two out of three of those categories that he is much improved.
"He is starting to get more involved, not just joining the rush as the fourth man or fifth man into it or third man, but also leading the rush a little bit and hanging on to pucks in the offensive zone so I think that we are seeing some growth. Now we are starting to see him get rewarded. Hopefully that gives him a little more confidence to continue to do that. Creating offense is such a tough job that you need all five guys involved with that."
Video: Avalanche coach Jared Bednar before facing the Pens
For the majority of his career, Girard has been on a defensive pairing with Erik Johnson and the two have often been tasked with shutting down the opposing team's top players. They currently share the team lead in time on ice, with both blueliners logging an average of 21:41 this year.
"I think he has just gotten more and more comfortable every year. He plays pretty seasoned and guys go through a lot of ups and downs as a young defenseman, and he hasn't had too many downs," Johnson said of Girard. "He hasn't had a lot of gaps in his game, so he has been pretty consistent which is the hardest thing to establish as a D, and he has got a lot of games left and happy to see him get to 200."
He has taken steps forward with each new season of his young career and continues to develop his game and find his stride as he gains more experience.
"I think defensively, a couple media was kind of like worried about my defensive game in the NHL, and I think that's what I have improved a lot," Girard said of his growth from when he entered the league. "The last few games just shooting the puck more a little bit, moving my feet every game, that is what I am going to have to do for the rest of my career I think."
ALL-STAR NEEDS MORE CALE
Today is the last day to vote for the final player on each division's roster for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game through the league's "Last Men In" ballot.
Avs defenseman Cale Makar is Colorado's candidate in the poll, and he can join Nathan MacKinnon at the mid-season classic. Makar's 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 36 games rank second among all rookies and is also tied for ninth among all blueliners in the league. He has averaged 0.89 points per game, which is first when compared to first-year players in the NHL and fifth among all rear guards.
Voting closes at 9:59 p.m. MT tonight. Fans can vote for one player in each division up to 10 times a day.
Pavel Francouz, who will get the start in net against the Penguins, ranks third in the NHL in save percentage (.929) and eighth in goals-against average (2.32). He posted a 9-0-1 record from Nov. 7-Dec. 23, the longest streak without a regulation loss by an Avalanche netminder since Semyon Varlamov went 16 straight decisions (11-0-5) with a point in 2013-14. View the Avalanche's projected lineup here.
After morning skate, head coach Jared Bednar noted that forward Joonas Donskoi skated on his own prior to the group session, and he is "feeling better". Donskoi is out in concussion protocol after enduring a hard hit against the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Tonight's contest begins a five-game homestand for the Avs. These five outings at Pepsi Center also features visits from the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings and the home stay is tied for the longest of the season (Feb. 11-19).
The Avs rank second among all teams in goals per game (3.61), trailing only Tampa Bay (3.70). Colorado's 159 goals overall are tied for third in the NHL, which includes a league-best 51 first-period tallies. Only Florida (63) has more second-period goals than the Avalanche's 61.
The Avs have won 19 games when scoring the first goal (19-5-3), tied for the second-most wins when scoring first behind St. Louis (20).