The Colorado Avalanche came from two goals behind to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in their first game in 16 days at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, on Sunday.
It wasn’t perfect from the Avalanche, far from it, but they picked up two points on their return, and that is all that matters for now. Exactly like you’d expect from a team off for 16 days, the start was slow, but as the game went on, the Avalanche grew and found a way to win.
Here are our three takeaways from the game on Sunday.
Avalanche Suffer From Rust After Break
Throughout most of the game, but especially in the first period, the Avalanche looked exactly like a team that had been away from the rink. Key passes failed to connect, shots didn’t hit the net, play wasn’t quite as crisp as we have come to expect from this team, and defensive coverage was a little below par.
All of this highlighted something about this team that I’ve thought about for a while: they are at their best when they are on a roll and in their groove. Some teams perform best when faced with adversity, but this is definitely a team that goes to an even greater level when they are on top and playing well.
Championship-winning teams find a way to win games when they are not at their best. That was the Avalanche last night, and they found a way to win. We still need to see this from them in the postseason, of course, but rescuing a game from behind when not at your best is a trait that this club needs to show more of, so it was good to see. The team is almost a third of the way through the season and remains favorites for the Stanley Cup, despite some early stumbles along the way.
KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid
If there is one element of play that the Avalanche need to work on, that is keeping things simple. When you are not having much luck, and things are not perfect, I was always told to KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
I found myself shouting that at the screen on numerous occasions in the first period and also in the second a few times. They eventually managed to work this out towards the end of the game, getting shots on goal and not looking to score from the perfect play every time.
As the game progressed, the Avalanche found a way to turn their usually complex style into something a little easier to play, and one that created more chances while also limiting the Ducks. Simple transitional play, smarter zone clearances and firing pucks to the net, the Avalanche outshot Anaheim 12-6 in the final period. From the moment Gabriel Landeskog made the game 2-2 with 16 minutes to play, there was only ever going to be one winner, barring something wild happening.
Trust in Logan O’Connor to Deliver
Go back 12 months, and had you asked Avalanche fans to name the forward they would least like to get a big opportunity, many would have said Logan O’Connor. Fast forward back to the present day, and he’s quickly becoming one of the most trusted players in the bottom-six.
With just over a minute to go, the fact that O’Connor was even on the ice at the time of his goal is a huge step forward from the role he played last season, and it has been a fully deserved increase in playing time. The 25-year-old netted his sixth goal of the season to put the Avalanche ahead 3-2, taking his point total up to 13 points from 27 games. In 22 games last season, he scored just five points, and it was his point production that kept him firmly nailed to the fourth line on the roster.
We have seen J.T. Compher bounce back this season and succeed with more ice time under his belt. But O’Connor is pushing him hard to take some of that, and when the Avalanche get healthy, tough decisions will have to be made by the team. Players who can step up into the top-six when needed are not easy to come by. And if O’Connor continues on this path, the Avalanche could have two available to them.
Now, he’s a fully-fledged top-nine forward who has proven his worth as a penalty killer, grinder and now point scorer. At his current pace, O’Connor will get more than 30 points this season, and if he comes anywhere close to that, it will be huge for the Avalanche, who had their biggest offseason question mark hanging over their bottom-six scoring capability. With every game played, the deal O’Connor signed in the summer at just over $1 million per season is looking more and more like a steal for the franchise.
Those worries are a thing of the past, and O’Connor has been the main driving force behind that.
What’s Next for the Avalanche?
The Avalanche play four games this week and four in the next two weeks after that, so the schedule is certainly catching up with them. Next up, they travel to face the Blackhawks in Chicago on Tuesday night, followed by home games against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
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Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.