Cale Makar and Devon Toews…has a more perfect match ever existed?
When the Colorado Avalanche traded for Devon Toews in 2020, they imagined him fitting next to Makar. I’m not sure they could have imagined him fitting any better than he has.
Long gone are the days of pairing an offensive defenseman with a stay at home one. The game has changed, and the pair of Toews and Makar is doing things no other pair in the NHL can dream of. It’s a copycat league, so look for teams to try and find their own Makar and Toews combination (good luck with that).
The duo’s chemistry, movement, and trust in each other makes them impossible to defend in the offensive zone.
Let’s take a look at some of the magic they create offensively that sets them apart from everyone else.
Creating a Lane
A big thing we focused on in the other most recent film room was movement in the offensive zone. Makar and Toews thrive in this area.
Here, the puck goes to Makar at the point. He fakes a shot and tries to go down low. Draisaitl cuts off his lane, forcing Makar back. At this point, Makar doesn’t have a shooting lane.
This is when the chemistry between the two comes into play.
Toews immediately recognizes this and sprints over to Makar’s side. What you see is a play other defensive pairs rarely make, but these two do on the regular: a drop pass at the offensive blueline. As the last line of defense, a pass like that requires a lot of trust in your defensive partner.
By switching sides, a shooting lane has now opened up, and with Toews on his off-side, he’s able to get a shot around the defender on net. Rantanen is in front for a screen, but misses the deflection. The skating ability and chemistry between the two defenders opened up a point shot that would not have been possible for other defensive pairings.
Below the Hashmarks
Defensemen pinch below the hashmarks in the offensive zone all the time. For Toews and Makar, it’s a regular occurrence for both of them to be below the hash marks at the same time.
Watch these two move and switch sides for well over 30 seconds, with Toews spending more than half the time below the hashmarks. It’s an easy way for the Avalanche to take advantage of wingers in the defensive zone, and confuse the the opposing team. Near the end, both Makar and Toews pinch when Rantanen takes the puck up high, and it creates a decent scoring chance in the slot. By the end of the shift, Toews is behind the Oilers net, and the defenders are confused as to who is supposed to take him.
Push the Pace
If you hand the puck right back to the Avalanche, expect them to turn it back your way immediately. Especially if Toews and Makar are out there.
Columbus dumps the puck out of their zone, and it lands right on Makar’s stick. Rather than waste any time, they get moving, attacking a tired defense. O’Connor hits a streaking Toews, who takes the puck all the way below the goal line. After sucking everyone down low, he sends it up high to Makar, who is in the spot usually occupied by Toews.
And as we all know, Makar isolated against a winger is bad news for that winger. He fakes him out to open up a lane, and the shot hits O’Connor before heading to the back of the net. They turned a Columbus mistake into a goal in less than 10 seconds.
The Avalanche love running three men high (as you’ve seen and more clips will continue to show). Typically it’s MacKinnon or Rantanen coming up high, but in this case it’s Lehkonen.
When the puck gets to Toews at the blueline, he wastes no time firing it over to Makar. The Norris winning defenseman one touches the puck right to Lehkonen. The puck has moved from one side of the ice to the other, and back to the middle so quickly that Lehkonen finds himself wide open. This leads to an easy goal.
Toews and Makar see plays develop so quickly that the other team does not have time to react.
Give and Go
The two defensemen basically toy with the Coyotes on this shift.
Not once, but twice does Toews catch that the man covering him is asleep at the wheel. After he dishes it off to Makar, he sees his guy isn’t paying attention and dashes into the open space. Makar hits him with the pass and it creates a good scoring chance. Later in the shift, Toews does it again, giving the puck up to Makar and heading towards open space. Luckily for Nick Bjugstad, the defenseman steps up to stop Toews and kill another chance, but this clip shows the chemistry the two have that allows them to work off each other so well.
It Goes Both Ways
We had Makar dropping the puck off to Toews earlier, and now we go the other way.
Toews recognizes he’s cut off along the boards, but sees Makar drifting to his side for support, and sends a drop pass off the boards. As most teams would be, the Coyotes are not ready for that, and it creates another one on one matchup for Makar. He wins, as he usually does, and gets a great look at the net that’s stopped.
If you’re going to have a decoy, I’m not sure there’s a better one than Nathan MacKinnon.
I think the next film room might have to focus purely on the the Avalanche using three men up high, because it’s created a lot of goals over the last few years. After a face-off win, look how quickly the puck moves.
It goes from MacKinnon to Toews to Makar and back to Toews in a matter of seconds, completely throwing off the Coyotes defenders. When MacKinnon goes up high, two defenders race to him, and the Makar just sends it back to a wide-open Toews. He walks in for an easy goal because of the screen in front by Landeskog and Rantanen.
The thing is, the puck moved so quickly that not only did the Coyotes leave Toews all alone, but Makar even snuck away down low for a pass. Toews could have hit him for an easy backdoor goal, but oh well, he’ll have to settle for a goal of his own.
Good luck trying to slow these guys down.
The thing about both Toews and Makar is they’re effortless skaters. Look at the ease at which they move around the offensive zone, and look at the Red Wings defenders trying desperately to keep up.
Both of them, once again, end up below the hash marks after non-stop movement. Much like the earlier shift, Toews ends up in the corner, on the right side, left side, pinching in, and finally, in front of the net. It’s impossible to defend, and after all that movement, Toews ends up with a glorious scoring chance that somehow doesn’t go in.
Dump and Chase
I’ve said before on twitter that you know the Avalanche are really rolling when they keep pushing with the lead. The biggest sign of that, for me, has always been Toews jumping up and leading the rush. He never seems to run out of energy, and one of the little things I love about his game is how he will dump it in and go get it himself. Other teams don’t anticipate that from a defenseman.
Toews hits the red line, dumps it in, and sees a lane to get chasing. He’s not able to beat the defender there, but because he attacked and pressured, it led to a turnover. Big surprise, the puck ends up on Toews stick again and he finds his defensive partner. It leads to an offensive zone possession.
It’s just high hockey IQ by Toews. He recognizes that when he dumps it in, the forwards are standing still at the blueline. Because he has forward momentum, he’s got the best chance of creating pressure on the opposing team, and that’s exactly what he does.
Another Drop For Good Measure
We’ve already looked at a few drop passes, so why not finish with another?
Just good body positioning by Makar to shield the puck from not only his guy, but hide the puck from Toews’ guy. Toews is able to go around Makar and find a lane that his partner wasn’t able to find. It doesn’t lead to the best chance, but just another example of how they use each other at the offensive blueline, and always support one another when they have the puck.
That’s all for this film room. Please leave a comment down below and let me know what you think of these. Do you want more? What film rooms would you like to see in the future?
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.