The Colorado Avalanche raised a Stanley Cup Championship banner at Ball Arena in Denver Wednesday night for the first time in 21 years. The ceremony at center ice featured the entire 2022-23 roster, as well as the Stanley Cup, which injured team captain Gabriel Landeskog paraded around the ice.
The festivities also featured Mark Hoppus, bass player and vocalist for Blink-182. The band’s song, All the Small Things, became an anthem for Avalanche nation during the club’s run up to the championship. The Avalanche also welcomed back defenseman Jack Johnson, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason. He also joined his former teammates for the banner-raising.
After the banner was in place, it was time to play hockey, with the Avalanche hosting Johnson’s Blackhawks in the first game of the season for both teams. In contrast to the Avalanche, Chicago, a Central Division rival, entered the new campaign off a disappointing 2022-23 season where they tallied only 68 points in the standings (Colorado had a franchise-best 119 points), and finished in seventh place in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs.
The contest unfolded more or less as expected with the Avalanche besting the Blackhawks 5-2. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Avalanche Strong Out of the Starting Gate
The Avalanche showed no signs of a Stanley Cup hangover, taking control of the game from the first drop of the puck. They outshot the Blackhawks 12 -4 in the opening frame and dominated possession. The speed of the Avalanche was more than the Blackhawks could handle, leading the visitors to play an undisciplined brand of hockey.
The Blackhawks were called for three penalties in the first period, and seven overall. Colorado made them pay, as the home team scored four of its five goals with a man advantage. Chicago had its power play working as well, scoring both of its goals on two of three power-play chances.
All Eyes on Georgiev
The biggest offseason addition to the Avalanche roster was goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, acquired via trade from the New York Rangers. Brought in to replace Darcy Kuemper, who signed with the Washington Capitals, he was largely untested in the game against the Blackhawks.
The 26-year-old native of Ruse, Bulgaria faced only 17 shots on goal (the Avalanche had 35). Spending most of last season with the Rangers in a backup role to Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, Georgiev now steps into a starting role for the first time in his NHL career.
As was the case with Kuemper last year, given the stellar nature of the Avalanche defense in front of him, Georgiev need only be adequate to help the team succeed, as was the case Wednesday night. In each of the goals scored against him, the Blackhawks got Georgiev to commit to the right side of his crease, leaving an open net for two relatively easy shots.
With the Avalanche playing the second of back-to-back games in Calgary Thursday night, look for backup netminder Pavel Francouz to start between the pipes.
Lehkonen & Nichushkin Light It Up
Forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin, both benefactors of large offseason contracts, made the Avalanche front office look good in this game. With expectations for both players riding high, each got off to a fast start; Lehkonen had three points in the contest, including two goals. Nichushkin had two goals.
Nichushkin, who was skating on the team’s second line with Alex Newhook and Evan Rodrigues, showed no signs that the foot injury that plagued him in the later rounds of the playoffs was impacting his ability to skate and play. Lehkonen benefitted from skating on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen; Rantanen had four assists in the game and MacKinnon had two.
Up Next & Game Notes
Landeskog, who is recovering from a lower-body injury and looked slightly hobbled during the opening ceremonies, did not play. There is no timetable for his return. Colorado heads to Calgary tomorrow night, where they will face former teammate Nazem Kadri and the Flames.
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.