In their season opener, the Colorado Avalanche looked like a team that talked about winning the Stanley Cup for two months, and then ran into a team filled with players that have actually won it.
In their second game, the Avalanche went back to something more familiar, and their stars delivered.
Colorado and the St. Louis Blues split their first two games of this season. The Blues, who took home the Stanley Cup in 2019, won the opener 4-1, and the Avalanche dominated the second contest, 8-0. The second game was clearly more aligned with what Colorado was expecting, particularly from its top line.
The combination of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen has been one of the scariest lines in the NHL since they started playing together in 2018. In this season’s opener, Colorado coach Jared Bednar swapped out Landeskog for Andre Burakovsky on the top unit, and the offense sputtered.
The experiment lasted only those first 60 minutes of the season, and Landeskog was put back with his familiar linemates for the second game. It didn’t take long to get familiar results.
Through the first two periods of Colorado’s win, the combination of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen had 10 shots on goal. St. Louis only had 11 as a team. They combined for seven points, getting a goal and two assists from MacKinnon, two goals from Landeskog, and a goal and a helper from Rantanen.
Those results were more aligned with how they had started previous campaigns.
MacKinnon started last season with a 13-game point streak, and started 2018-19 with a nine-game point streak. Rantanen started with points in 11 of Colorado’s first 12 games last year, and points in 10 of his first 11 games in 2018-19. Landeskog had points in four of the first five games last year, and had eight goals in the first nine games two seasons ago.
The rebound was important since Colorado has struggled against St. Louis. Entering Friday’s game, the Blues had won 8 of their last 11 against the Avalanche.
Special Teams Sizzling Early
One of Colorado’s weaknesses last year was special teams, and was a focus going into the season. The Avalanche ranked 19th in the power play, and 13th in the penalty kill a year ago. Early returns this season show that the Avalanche took those poor rankings to heart.
Of the nine goals the Avalanche have scored this year, seven have come with the man advantage. They were a scintillating 6-for-7 on the power play in the 8-0 win, getting power-play goals from six different players – and all of them came in the last two periods. To put that in perspective, 13 different players scored power-play goals for Colorado all of last season.
Andre Burakovsky has two power-play goals on the season, getting one in each of the first two games. He’s never had more than two in a season entering this campaign.
The Avalanche also got goals with the man advantage from MacKinnon, Rantanen, Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri and Devon Toews. It was Toews’ first goal since being traded to Colorado from the New York Islanders. He also had an assist.
All four of the goals scored in the third period were on the power play. On the penalty kill, the Blues were 0-for-6 through the two games.
What’s Up Next For Colorado
The Avalanche have four games in six days in California – starting with two games against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 19 and 21. They’ll play the Anaheim Ducks in a pair of games over three days after the Kings doubleheader.
That might look like a break in the schedule – since neither the Kings nor the Ducks were even close to the playoffs last season – but recent history says otherwise. The Avalanche were 2-3-1 combined against the Kings and Ducks last season, scoring only 10 goals in the six games. Things were especially tough against the Kings, as the Avs only scored four goals in three games against them.
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The top line is going to hope Friday’s outburst continues, since they haven’t done well against the Kings lately. Against Los Angeles last season, the trio managed just two assists and didn’t score a goal.
Arizona was the only other NHL team the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line didn’t score a goal against in the 2019-20 regular season. However, they made up for it by combining for six goals in the five-game playoff series win over the Coyotes.
MacKinnon has only three goals in 19 career games against the Kings. He’s only scored fewer against the Vegas Golden Knights (one goal in eight games), along with the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers – two Eastern Conference teams.
Los Angeles has only played one game this season, a 4-3 overtime loss to Minnesota.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.