The Colorado Avalanche surrendered a two-goal lead to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Denver Wednesday night before coming back to tie the game at 4-4 with 52 seconds left in the third period. But the late-game heroics weren’t enough, as Columbus defenseman Jake Bean scored his second goal of the night at 1:12 in overtime to give the Blue Jackets the 5-4 win. The overtime loss snapped a two-game winning streak and dropped Colorado to 4-4-1 on the season.
Injuries Continue to Plague the Avalanche
Three of Colorado’s top six forwards did not dress for the game: Mikko Rantanen, who led the club with 30 goals in the regular season last year, missed his third consecutive game; Andre Burakovsky left last Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild with a lower-body injury; and Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t played in three weeks, as he continues to recover from an injury sustained in the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. The three offensive threats were joined by the Avalanche’s number one defenseman Cale Makar, who is nursing an upper-body injury, also suffered in the start against Minnesota.
The Avalanche have also been without defenseman Devon Toews since the start of the year, as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. And Pavel Francouz, Colorado’s number two goaltender, has been out since suffering a lower-body injury in a preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Francouz injury directly impacted this game, as coach Jared Bednar sat his number one netminder, Darcy Kuemper, giving Jonas Johansson his second start of the young season between the pipes.
While no team can or should use injuries as an excuse, it’s clear the Avalanche are having trouble finding their rhythm. Lines have been jumbled and inconsistent from one game to the next, with several players from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, getting unanticipated playing time in the NHL.
The Avalanche showed moments of talent and grit in this game, notably through the first half of the contest and then again late in the third period. Still, it was a series of defensive breakdowns in the final 30 minutes, which let the Blue Jackets claw their way back into the game. It will be difficult to assess the Avalanche until a full complement of the team’s regulars has an opportunity to skate together.
The good news for Avalanche fans is that many of the missing players are considered day-to-day, with both Rantanen and Nichushkin skating at team practice, though wearing red non-contact sweaters when they did.
How much more can be said about this young man? On a night when Makar was watching from home, other members of the Avalanche defense were going to have to step up. Bowen Byram answered the call. The highly touted rookie (drafted fourth overall in the 2019 draft) had two goals and an assist, including the goal — a rocket from the blue line — that tied the game with under a minute to go.
Byram has done more than impress so far this season. In addition to being involved in the scoring, he’s demonstrated speed and skill while also answering any physical challenge thrown at him from the opposing team. When Makar and ultimately Toews return, and with Girard and especially Eric Johnson playing well, the Colorado defense should be a tough match for any team.
Other players with a strong contribution in tonight’s game included Nazem Kadri, who had three assists, and captain Gabriel Landeskog with two assists, including his 300th career assist. Both players are off to a strong start in the young season.
Avalanche Power Play Still Anemic
While the ice-cold Colorado power play was finally starting to show signs of life — the Avalanche scored three power-play goals in the previous four games — the team converted on none of their three opportunities with the man advantage tonight. Unlike the first few games in the season, where the power play seemed disorganized, Colorado had its chances against Columbus, recording nine shots on goal during the three power plays. Yet, they still could not find the back of the net.
Coming into tonight, Colorado had converted on just 12.9% of its power plays, significantly lower than the league average of 20.4%. By contrast, the team converted on 22.7% of its power plays last year, better than the league average of 19.8%.
The Avalanche will need a more effective power play to right the ship, capitalizing on opportunities when they’re presented.
The Avalanche will seek revenge as they travel to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets again on Saturday night.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.