The Colorado Avalanche visited the Los Angeles Kings at the newly renamed Crypto.com Arena, playing their second game of back-to-back contests. Though they were outshot 41 to 27, Colorado prevailed 4-1 on the strength of solid goaltending and timely goals.
With the win, the Avalanche improve to 27-8-3, which is the best start to a season in franchise history. They now have at least one point in each of the last 11 games. The 2000-01 Stanley Cup-winning team had a 16-game point streak, the longest in franchise history. Colorado sits atop the Central Division and third in the league overall, only two points behind the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Avalanche Look Fatigued
The Avalanche won despite subpar play. It was Colorado’s third pair of back-to-back games in 10 days, and it showed. As they did the previous night against the Anaheim Ducks, the Avalanche looked a step slow and a step late. The Kings out-hustled the Avalanche from the drop of the puck through the first two periods. At one point in the second period, the Kings were outshooting the Avalanche 30-10.
Colorado did seem to get a second wind in the third period, and the hard play was rewarded when Nicolas Aube-Kubel scored on a breakaway. He exited the penalty box just in time to receive a pass from Logan O’Connor, outskated Kings’ defenseman Sean Durzi, and put a wrist shot through LA goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Colorado. Having played only 38 games, the Avalanche have played fewer games than 18 other teams. The light load to date, mainly due to COVID cancellations, will result in a compressed schedule for the balance of the season. The NHL announced the calendar of make-up games yesterday. Colorado will play six more sets of back-to-back games and will end the season playing seven games in 12 days, all the way through to April 29.
Kuemper Sharp in Net
Colorado netminder Darcy Kuemper stopped 40 of 41 shots, turning in his best performance of the season. The only goal he surrendered came on a Kings power play. Los Angeles had the Avalanche defense back on its heels, forcing a scrum for the puck in front of the net. Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar cleaned up the mess for the easy goal.
Kuemper kept his team in the game despite the onslaught of shots, many of them quality shots, from the Kings. His .976 save percentage (SV%) was his best so far this year, eclipsing a home win over the Minnesota Wild, in which he stopped 29 of 30 shots for a .967 SV%. It was the most dominating performance for the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native, since stopping 49 shots twice in the 2020 playoffs while still a member of the Arizona Coyotes, one of those wins against the Avalanche. He has given up only two goals in his last three starts.
Related: Avalanche Need Kuemper to Deliver Like Grubauer
With both Kuemper and the team’s number two goaltender, Pavel Francouz, finally healthy, the club is getting consistently good goaltending for the first time this season. Sustaining this level of play through the regular season and into the playoffs will be crucial for Colorado to realize its Stanley Cup aspirations.
Aube-Kubel Acquisition Paying Dividends
When Colorado executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic picked up Nicolas Aube-Kubel on the waiver wire from the Philadelphia Flyers, it was a stopgap to compensate for the club’s large number of injuries. But like other players on the Avalanche — notably, Valeri Nichushkin — Aube-Kubel is flourishing in the mountain air.
Aube-Kubel’s best season to date was 15 points in 36 games in 2019-20, his first full season in the league. Since moving to Colorado, he has 12 points in just 26 games, which puts him on a pace to score 32 points for the season, far eclipsing his career-best. He is proving to be a dependable player on the back-end of the rotation.
With so many players — Aube-Kubel, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, Nichushkin, Devon Toews — having career-best years, credit has to go to both head coach Jared Bednar and Sakic. Bednar should merit serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award for the league’s best coach.
Game Notes and Up Next
The game was the season debut for Quinton Byfield, the highly touted Kings prospect who was taken second overall in the 2020 draft. He played six games for Los Angeles last season. He had three shots on goal and looked sharp in the contest.
The Avalanche were without Valeri Nichushkin (COVID protocol) and Bowen Byram (lingering concussion issues). Kiefer Sherwood, recalled from Colorado’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, had a goal in the game, his first of the season and the seventh of his career.
Colorado is back in action Saturday night when they welcome the struggling Montreal Canadiens to Ball Arena in Denver. The Avalanche will be going for a franchise-best 15th consecutive home win.