General Manager Joe Sakic bought the Colorado Avalanche a little goalie insurance at the trade deadline. On Wednesday night, that decision paid dividends.
Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves in his Avalanche debut, J.T. Compher earned a goal and an assist, and Brandon Saad scored the game-winner as the team held on to defeat the St. Louis Blues 4-3 in their fifth meeting of the season. The Avs carried a 4-1 lead into the third period but faced a barrage of pressure in the third period from the home squad desperate for points.
The contest was a scheduled start for the Avs’ starter, Philipp Grubauer. Unfortunately, the German netminder tested positive for COVID-19 the morning of the game, making him inactive for the night and for at least two weeks. This change in circumstances led to Dubnyk’s accelerated debut, in which he performed admirably to earn his first win in five starts.
More impressive, he preserved the win in difficult circumstances. The Avalanche players were vaccinated the day before the game and were clearly affected by some side effects during the game. Joonas Donskoi missed the contest feeling sick, and the team lost steam as the game went on, looking worn and barely hanging on for the victory.
Thus, Colorado’s 30th win of the season could argue as one of their better outings. Here’s what stood out from Wednesday night:
Dubnyk Fights for Trust
Dubnyk has had a strange NHL career to date, one that has not exactly made him a popular figure in Colorado. He debuted with the Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted him 14th overall in 2004, in the 2009-10 season, and put up solid numbers for some bad Oiler teams until being traded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2014. He didn’t find success again until his time with the Minnesota Wild, where from 2015 to 2019, he was considered one of the best goalies in the entire NHL.
Dubnyk was a terror during his first year in Minnesota. In 39 games played for the 2014-15 Wild, the 6’6″ behemoth went 27-9-2 with a .936 save percentage. That season, he finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting, third in Vezina voting, and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given to the NHLer that best exemplifies perseverance and sportsmanship. He capped the year by helping the Wild upset the Blues in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs before being swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in the semifinals.
Dubnyk remained solid until his last year with the Wild, a stretch of years in which he earned the ire of Avalanche fans. Not only was he good, he had a flair for the dramatic. As such, many onlookers from Colorado were torn apart when he struggled last season with the Wild and this season with the San Jose Sharks. But all of a sudden, Dubnyk is an Av, not to mention one with a winning record.
Before coming to Colorado, Dubnyk and Sakic’s other goalie acquisition, Jonas Johansson, combined for a paltry 4-17-4 record to start the 2020-21 season. But, they’ve now gone 4-0-1 as members of the burgundy and blue, which should be regarded as a feather in the cap of the club’s pro scouting staff. Their success should also be regarded as a testament to the shift in the Avalanche as a team.
Not too long ago, Colorado won games almost solely because of their goaltenders. Now, goaltenders win games because they’re a part of the Avs. Among all the success the team has enjoyed over the last few years, things like that should be very encouraging to fans. Colorado’s process, built by coach Jared Bednar and put in practice by the players, is matching the team’s results. That’s what makes them so scary. Even if they don’t win or play in the Stanley Cup Final, they’ve put themselves in a position to have a solid shot.
Spreading the Wealth
In a game where the Avs were not going to be as fast, as usual, the bottom two lines stepped up and contributed three goals while inflicting their strengths. Bednar’s constructed fourth line of Liam O’Brien, P.E. Bellemare, and Compher was particularly impressive, using forechecking to force a Blues’ turnover in the first period that led to the opening goal. They continued their pressure in the second, as Compher scored his sixth of the season by banging home the rebound off a nice deflection by O’Brien. Conor Timmins earned his first point in the NHL on that play as well.
Saad scored the goal that made it 4-1 in the second period. It was his second straight game with a goal, evidence he’s finding success in his new role on the team’s third line. Tyson Jost used his skating to wheel from the top to the bottom of the offensive zone, losing defenseman Torey Krug in the process. Saad used his hockey IQ to get into a good position and was able to receive Jost’s pass in the slot and wire the puck home. With a sudden influx of depth talent, players finding chemistry will be critically important to find the best lineup possible for the playoffs.
The Blues played well during the contest, particularly in the third period. For an outfit that has struggled for a majority of the last two months, it’s encouraging to see them begin to play with confidence again. Despite the Avs holding a 4-1-0 record against St. Louis this year, the last three of those wins have come by a single goal. They play Colorado tough, and should the Avalanche win the Honda Western Division, they should be wary with a first-round matchup with the Blues.
With three more matchups coming next week, there’s plenty of time for the intensity of their matchups to grow. But for now, they just keep on rolling.
Avery is a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. He is graduating in April with a B.A. in English and Mass Communication. He has previously worked for The Puck Authority covering the Rapid City Rush and for NGU Vision Media as their News Editor. He is a board game enthusiast and enjoys spending time with others.