Prior to the start of the regular season, most pundits had picked the San Jose Sharks to finish near the bottom of the league, projecting the team to finish behind even the expansion Seattle Kraken. It was surprising then that the Sharks entered Ball Arena Saturday night with a 7-5-1 record in what has turned out to be a hotly contested Pacific Division.
But that early season success wasn’t enough to handle a Colorado Avalanche team that is finally finding its rhythm. The Avalanche overcame a slow start — San Jose outshot Colorado 9-1 in the first half of the first period — to dominate the Sharks with a 6-2 victory. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Avalanche Riding Momentum
The Avalanche came into Saturday night’s contest off their best win of the season, a 7-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Canucks. It was the first game without the team’s superstar center, Nathan MacKinnon, who is expected to miss three weeks with a lower-body injury. The entire team picked up the slack with 11 different players notching a point in that contest. That total team effort continued in the game against San Jose.
In this contest, once again, 11 players tallied a point, and the Avalanche defensive core had a piece of every goal, with slick-skating Sam Girard leading the way with four points on the night. It was especially gratifying to see rookie Alex Newhook — who was playing in only his second game after being recalled from the Colorado Eagles, the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate club — score his first goal. Newhook looked like Mikko Rantanen, receiving a beautiful feed from Girard in the right faceoff circle and going down to one knee to sweep a one-timer past the Adin Hill, the Sharks’ net minder.
Every player on the ice contributed, showcasing Colorado’s depth. The Avalanche are well-positioned to keep that momentum going in their next start on Wednesday night, versus the Canucks in Vancouver.
Kuemper Sharp Again
Like much of the Avalanche squad, goaltender Darcy Kuemper began his season with a string of subpar performances. But he’s started to right the ship over the last few starts. In his first six games of the season, he had a pedestrian save percentage (SV%) of .893; over the last three contests it’s been a Herculean .946 SV%. Kuemper kept the ball rolling against San Jose, stopping 28 of 30 shots on the night (a .934 SV%).
The first goal, from Logan Couture, was a brilliant shot from a difficult angle. For the second goal, which came midway through the third period from the Sharks’ Alexander Barabanov, Kuemper could not have been more screened had he been behind a brick wall. Other than the goal from Couture, Kuemper was very sharp early, allowing his teammates time to settle down and find their footing, and then remained strong throughout the balance of the game.
Yes, We’re Still Talking About Logan O’Connor
This isn’t the first time we’re writing about Logan O’Connor in an Avalanche game recap, and it won’t be the last. The local fan favorite, an undrafted product of the University of Denver Pioneers, was the first star in Thursday’s game against the Canucks, with a goal and an assist. He kept the high level of play going in the contest against the Sharks.
O’Connor had a beautiful shorthanded goal in the second period on a perfect feed from Darren Helm. O’Connor received the pass at the blue line and got in behind the San Jose defense, beating Hill with a neat backhand high on the blocker side. In addition to playing O’Connor on the penalty killing unit, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar also had enough confidence in the young skater to move him to the top line, with captain Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen, after center J.T. Compher left the game with an upper-body injury. (Compher had been filling in for MacKinnon on the top line.)
That third spot on the top line, when needed, is often reserved for Andre Burakovsky. But with the second line — Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Valeri Nichushkin — playing well, Bednar elected to try O’Connor up front. That level of confidence can only be a boost to O’Connor, who was the third star of this game on Saturday night. Watch for No. 25 jerseys to start showing up in Ball Arena before the season is over.
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.