DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 23: Goalie Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche defends the goal from a shot by Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues during their preseason game at Pepsi Center on September 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Despite the sea of new faces, the Avalanche was just like the team of old: fantastic first period, apathetic second, and a tale of two extremes in the third. There wasn't really a whole lot to write home about, but there were some things at least worth mentioning.
The Avs' first power play was solid. Manned by Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson on the point, along with Matt Duchene, Brandon Yip and Milan Hejduk, there was good puck movement with extended possession. There weren't a lot of shots on net, but the unit created space and posed a threat.
On the other hand, the team's first penalty kill was an unpleasant flashback to last season. Lots of running around and miscues ended up with the puck in the back of Semyon Varlamov's net. Now, things were quite different on the second PK. It was a perfect exhibition of how to run a kill; the Blues couldn't set up properly because they never entered the zone with full possession. No possession means no shots on net.
Joel Chouinard is, to put it simply, bad, bad, bad. All night long, he tried to bank the puck off the boards to either clear the zone or dump the puck in. Unfortunately, every time he did it, the puck ended up on the stick of an opposing player. He had a beauty of a chance, with a wide-open net, but he got too cute and missed the shot. He tended to reach out with his stick rather than using his body to gain control of the puck. It was silly.
Tyson Barrie is going to be a very good NHL defenseman. His instincts are solid, and he has some slick skills. He needs some time marinating in the AHL, though, in order to fully develop his game. If he plays in any regular season games before he gets that chance, he will need to be protected. He shies away from big hits, especially with guys who have more size than him, and is too easy to push off the puck. The guy is still young, though, and is bound to put on some weight. He impressed during the third when he and Cameron Gaunce teamed up for the Avs' first goal. Gaunce reached to hold the puck in at the blue line and then sent a nifty little backhand pass to Barrie, who was calling for the puck with enthusiasm. The pass hit Barrie's stick perfectly, and #41 sent a puck through traffic like he was threading a needle for the goal. It was a beauty of a shot.
Cody McLeod had a good game. He was all over the ice, roughing up peeps and being a pest. He got under the skin of a few guys and ended up throwing down with someone (sorry, can't remember who. I'm sure it's in the box score). He didn't get a good grip on the guy's jersey, so it wasn't the prettiest of fights for the Highlander. However, he made up for it with solid play: few defensive lapses, involved in the action, and shifting out like a mofo.
At one point, David Backes got into Jay McClement's face after the whistle. Silent Jay wasn't too happy about it and pushed right back. Jamie Langenbrunner grabbed McClement from behind in a choke hold; McLeod, of course, jumped into the fray, drawing roughing penalties for himself and Backes.
Oh Stefan Elliott, where have you been all our lives? The dude is freaking good. He has the skills to make the roster on opening night. I'm still not convinced he will, but there's no way Matt Hunwick or Kyle Cumiskey keeps that spot for long. Elliott just has IT. He can stick handle his way around guys in a way that makes them look stupid. He has the fastest shot I've seen in a long time. This is a guy who's going to be pocketing 15 goals a year right away. As much as I love him, Johnny Hot Pocket wouldn't have had a place on this team for long with Elliott around anyway.
Varlamov is fast. I mean crazy fast. His ability to move laterally, post to post, along with his incredibly quick recovery after making a stop, illustrates just how athletic he really is. He was impressive even though he clearly was having an off night. I'm holding out hope that he just needs to adjust to his new team and shake off the rust.
All in all, I'm excited to see this team in its final incarnation, after all the cuts have been made. They pulled off last minute heroics and the goal brought them within one despite giving up an empty-netter just 10 seconds earlier. They fell short in the end, but there's something there. There's also interest in the team; there were about 5,000 people in the arena. For a preseason game, that's not too shabby. As a point of reference, I heard Dallas had 600 last night.
UPDATE: Yip is out with a broken arm (blocking a shot in tonight's game), and Jan Hejda is out with a knee injury (apparently suffered during the Burgundy/White game). It's started already, folks.