News, notes and round-ups are pretty easy when it comes to writing about the Colorado Avalanche. At least they have been for the start of this 2019-20 season. The team hit the road last week and won three of five games against some very tough contenders. One more contest against the Vegas Golden Knights and it’s back home to the Mile High City for three home games. No matter, this group has such versatility and determination they’re putting up points home and away to top the Central Division and be second in the Western Conference with 15 points and a 7-1-1 record.
Eastern Conference Trip
The first 10 minutes of the matchup against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 14 were astounding with four unanswered goals scored by four different Avalanche players. Erik Johnson broke it open with a hard slap shot from the blue line. Nazem Kadri was on fire with a goal and two assists. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov ripped in the second goal and top liner Mikko Rantanen lit the lamp for the fourth time of the period with a top shelf, power-play goal. Although Ian Cole quietly returned to the lineup, his services weren’t much needed as the rest of the team contributed enough.
The Capitals retaliated with the only two goals scored in the second period and another in the third, but it wasn’t enough to counteract the exuberance of the Avalanche. After pulling goalie Braden Holtby in the first period and trying to stop the bleeding, the Capitals got a little life from goals by Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie. Matt Nieto deflated those hopes with an easy goal via mishandling by young backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov. The top line finished the job with an empty netter by Nathan MacKinnon in the last seconds of the game. In his article published on Oct. 14, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post discusses the 6-3 final with every goal scored by a different player for the Avalanche and earning them another point in the “W” column. (from ‘Early offensive explosion carries Avalanche to fifth straight win to start season,’ Denver Post, 10/14/2019)
Avalanche vs. Penguins (Oct. 16)
Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia boys, Sidney Crosby and MacKinnon, faced off in Pittsburgh on Oct. 16 in a spark flying matchup that ended with an Avalanche overtime loss. The centers grew up together in the small Canadian town, followed similar paths to the NHL and are close friends. They competed hard on the ice and notched a goal each for their respective teams.
Avalanche left wing Matt Calvert slapped in the first goal of the game after a breakdown in play by the Penguins but an unfortunate bounce of the puck after Gabriel Landeskog tried to hit it out of the blue paint ended up in the net for a shorthanded goal and OT winner for Brandon Tanev.
“I don’t think we’re happy with the outcome or how we played,” Avalanche goaltender Phillip Grubauer said after the game. “A couple games ago, we weren’t playing great and found a way to get two points. Maybe this was a little bit of a reality check.”
It’s Always Sunny in Florida…but not in St. Louis
The humidity apparently took a toll on the Avalanche in the first period of the Oct. 16 contest vs. the Florida Panthers. They played sloppy and sluggish and allowed Jonathan Huberdeau to score two goals against a lackluster defense. They burst out of the gate in the second and pulled it together with back-to-back goals by Nieto and Andrei Burakovsky, but the Panthers didn’t sit on their heels and Brett Connolly tapped one in to put them up a goal (4-3).
That lead didn’t last long with Burakovsky answering with another goal to tie the game up in the second. The third period was a goaltender duel with Grubauer and Sergei Bobrovsky making stellar saves to keep their teams tied and forcing overtime. MacKinnon showed his amazing puck-handling ability and popped one in with a jaw-dropping goal to win the game.
Avalanche vs. Lightning (Oct. 19)
With a tough back-to-back schedule, the Avalanche faced off against the Tampa Bay Lightning the following night. Goaltender Pavel Francouz showcased his tremendous ability with 44 saves and the team showed no signs of fatigue as Tyson Jost scored the first goal of his first career hat trick just three minutes into the game.
“It feels awesome. It’s pretty special,” Jost told Corey Long (an independent correspondent for NHL.com) after the game. “It’s kind of something you always dream about as a kid playing in your backyard. It felt really special. It was an awesome moment.”
The Lightning responded with a goal from Yanni Gourde towards the end of the first, but it didn’t deflate Colorado. The second period was all Avalanche scoring with two more from Jost and a deflection by Landeskog from MacKinnon in the slot to go top shelf in the net. Unable to recover, the Avalanche dominated the third period with another two goals. With a 6-2 final, Tampa Bay was stunned and depleted from that loss.
Avalanche vs. Blues (Oct. 21)
The St. Louis Blues may have started off the 2019-20 season with a Stanley Cup hangover, but they regrouped and recharged to hand the Avalanche their first regulation loss on Monday night. The energy of the building and the chemistry of the Blues proved unmatchable for the Avalanche as MacKinnon was the lone goal scorer for the team, becoming the fifth player in NHL history with a season-opening point streak of at least nine games in consecutive seasons. Vladimir Tarasenko put up three points with a goal and two assists to aid the Blues in their 3-1 win at the Enterprise Center.
Bottom line, the Blues outplayed the Avalanche but it certainly didn’t help losing Rantanen to a lower-body injury in the second period.
“You have a good thing going and you never want it to end, but it was bound to happen sometime,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said following the loss. “Now we need to get our guys some rest, hopefully get healthy and then regroup and get ready to go against a tough Vegas team.”
Rantanen may be listed as week-to-week, but as Bednar said, the team needs some rest and recovery. It’s still early in the season and as Landeskog stated after the Blues loss, “We’re not going to make it about Mikko or about one guy. This is a team. We’ve lost guys in the past and found ways to win hockey games.”
This team is clearly not about one player or one top-line anymore. They’ve proven that in the first nine games. From solid depth to extraordinary goaltending, this hot streak isn’t flaming out anytime soon.