Two weeks into the season and the Colorado Avalanche’s schedule may have them off to a slow start but they surely haven’t been lackadaisical. The first three games of the 2019-20 season were electrifying. They scored in every period played in the first two games and won all three contests. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer shined in net while the club showcased their increased depth and solid defense. The team never trailed and outshot their opponents in the first two games.
Sold Out at the Pepsi Center
On Oct. 3, the Calgary Flames were put out with an Avalanche victory and final score of 5-3 in a sold-out Pepsi Center home opener in Denver. The team came out of the gate rearing and ready to go. They played fluid and looked like they were having fun out there.
Mikko Rantanen scored a full-strength goal in the first and another power-play goal in the second. His form and tenacity proved he trained hard in Switzerland and didn’t miss a beat while awaiting a contract to sign. Of course, he has some pretty talented players on his line with both Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog tallying assists on his goals. “Like I said before, we’ve played so many games together so it’s pretty easy,” Rantanen said of his linemates following the game. “The chemistry is there even though we didn’t see each other for four or five months. The game is always similar, so it was a good start.”
J.T. Compher buried the puck from a tough angle after a cross-ice pass from Matt Calvert to put the Avalanche up a goal in the second period. Newly-acquired forward Joonas Donskoi also scored two goals, one full strength and an empty-netter to finish the game. It’s always a boost to hit the ground running with a win and Donskoi couldn’t agree more. “It was huge. As a team, that’s what we were looking for – get a first lead and then get us going, get the confidence for us right away off the bat.” Donskoi said in postgame interviews. “So, it felt good and of course, it’s always nice to get some goals personally too.”
Cale Makar debuted in his first NHL season opener with an assist and Andrei Burakovsky earned his first point in an Avalanche jersey. Coach Jared Bednar, who hasn’t lost a season opener since assuming the position, shared his assessment of the ups and downs of the game.
Amidst another sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center, the Avalanche defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2 in an exciting matchup between the division rivals. The MGM line notched a goal and an assist from Rantanen, two assists from MacKinnon and a goal from Landeskog. “I’m not surprised when I get those on my tape from Mikko anymore,” Landeskog said about his linemate. “He’s been serving those for years. I’m glad I was able to put it in.” Makar produced an assist on the power-play unit and is looking more comfortable each game.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare displayed grit and agility to light the lamp for his first time in burgundy and blue with an assist from Valeri Nichushkin for his first point since joining the Avalanche.
They may have earned the win, but not all the Avalanche players looked their best in this competition. After an explosive first period, they fell flat. Their chemistry was off and they looked generally discombobulated. Some missed passes and turnovers could have changed the outcome of this game had it not been for the man in the net. Grubauer made 29 saves and a couple that will certainly make all of the top saves of the week clips.
Bruisin’ the Bruins
Unlike their first two games, the Avalanche got their clock cleaned in the first period. They did not come out as fired up and played a bit sloppy, allowing two goals by the Bruins. “Our guys didn’t feel like we were out of it,” Bednar said after the game. “We get a timely goal at the end of the first on a power play, which gets us back within striking distance. We knew we had some self-inflicted wounds and that we could be better. We got better as the game went on.”
And better they did. Rejuvenated after MacKinnon scored his first goal of the season at the end of the first, the second period brought the Avalanche a ‘celly from Belly’ (as Altitude radio analyst Conor McGahey said of Bellemare’s goal in the broadcast on Oct, 10, 2019). Just like that, the Avalanche were tied up going into the third period. They may have gotten some lucky bounces and phenomenal saves by Grubauer, but the team scored two more unanswered goals to finish the game. “It was great. You know, it was a really big win for us as a group,” MacKinnon said after the game. “I thought we got a little lucky, a couple overturned, but we’ll take it. That’s a really good team.”
How would this altered Avalanche team produce differently from last season’s team? Aside from MacKinnon working on a new scoring niche sans Tyson Barrie (who was in the trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri) and Kadri stepping up his game to earn some points, they’re living up to all the expectations placed on them from the offseason. Clearly, the biggest strength is in net with Grubauer shutting the door and making some memorable saves.
After their game against the Arizona Coyotes tonight, they hit the road for two weeks with a rough lineup against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, last season’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the hot on their heels Vegas Golden Knights. All which will be experienced via radio since no one in Colorado can witness the games with the whole broadcast debacle. Avalanche fans will hear their team’s true colors on the road.