The Colorado Avalanche played their fourth straight home game on Saturday night, getting a chance to host a familiar foe to close off their longest season-opening homestand and advance to a 4-0 record.
The Arizona Coyotes came riding high off a win over the Vegas Golden Knights, and hoping to topple the team that beat them out for the final Western Conference playoff spot last season. But despite an incredible goaltending battle between a pair of fascinating starters and a thrilling third period full of action, the Coyotes weren’t able to withstand some of Joe Sakic’s most impressive off-season acquisitions. Noted game-winning goal scorer Andre Burakovsky did what he does best in the final minute of a thrilling 3-on-3 OT period — and although the Coyotes had staged a tough comeback and given the Avalanche a run for their money in-game, Colorado still managed to hold strong and take home another two points.
The Avalanche allowed no goals and scored no goals in the first period, but:
Pavel Francouz when the Avalanche allow almost 10 shots in his first 10 minutes of his first NHL start pic.twitter.com/H0VMRKpbaO— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) October 13, 2019
The Coyotes have slowly been building up their defensive corps over the last few years, and the Avalanche got a taste of just what that’s like as they tried to turn on the jets in the second period.
While neither team managed to score for yet another 20 minute frame, the Avalanche were stymied by a defensive system deployed by Arizona that left them unable to penetrate the slot and put pressure on Antti Raanta. The Coyotes goaltender, who was returning to NHL action for the first time since November 25th of last season, faced just seven shots in the second period — and the Avalanche were unable to establish much in the way of sustained offensive zone time, to boot. He held his own for a game that was largely about re-establishing his sea legs on NHL ice, but plenty of credit goes to the blue liners in front of him that kept Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, and company from burying any real chances.
There were just 13 minutes left in the final frame of the game when the Avalanche finally managed to open up scoring in the contest. It took some sustained pressure in the offensive zone during a Colorado power-play and some blown positional coverage from Coyotes defender Jordan Oesterle for Nazem Kadri to work some magic, but it was well worth the wait; after coming in from outside the slot and holding onto the puck for an extra beat to fool Raanta, Kadri managed to snipe over the Coyotes netminder’s shoulder and put the Avalanche up 1-0 at long last.
Different city but Naz is keeping it Nasty. pic.twitter.com/8IAhfKQ90W— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) October 13, 2019
Play had barely seemed to resume when the Avalanche managed to strike again. Raanta’s mask got knocked askew during a post lean following a quick save, and it seemed to rattle him enough to get him off his balance and leave him scrambling to regain control of his crease when the play got close. Before the Coyotes could blink, the Avalanche were up 2-0, with just half a period to go.
The excitement didn’t end there, though, because the Coyotes — who were shut out once and scored just one goal in their first two games of the season — finally found their offensive talent. A smart open-ice play by Michael Grabner got the Austrian winger into position to receive a smart pass from the left side of the ice, and he sniped it up and past Pavel Francouz to pull the score deficit within one:
Great feed from Oliver Ekman-Larsson to find Grabner in open ice. OEL’s first assist, point of the year. pic.twitter.com/Rj7mA0bELe— Alexander Kinkopf (@AEKinkopf) October 13, 2019
The Avalanche seemed to be holding on to their lead until the final five minutes of the game, when the Coyotes truly turned on the jets. A smart play by third-year forward Clayton Keller turned the puck back up the ice towards Francouz, who wasn’t able to stop a shot from Nick Schmaltz to even the score at two with just 3:57 to go.
The Coyotes were the first to gain control in the OT period, but both sides managed to give and take — including rookie Cale Makar, who showed exactly what overtime 3-on-3 hockey should look like when he nearly scored on Antti Raanta to end it all:
It seemed like the game was going to be forced to go to a shootout, but a poor decision not to change by Arizona’s Keller left the Avalanche faced with some sloppy defending by the Coyotes forward. Andre Burakovsky was able to walk right in and bury it top shelf, effectively giving Colorado their fourth win in as many games.
- Last season, the Coyotes were the team that came down to the wire with Colorado for the final wild card spot. And while Colorado made a phenomenal effort to improve their own lineup with the additions of players like Kadri, Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Pavel Francouz, the Coyotes made some changes of their own with the addition of Phil Kessel and former Avs forward Carl Soderberg. Arizona’s defense was stifling and tiring, and even Colorado’s quality offensive lines couldn’t seem to figure them out; the Avalanche seem to be safely in a position to return to the postseason, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock to find Arizona across the ice from them when the playoffs roll around. And if that’s the case, it certainly won’t be an easy series.
- This was Pavel Francouz’s first official NHL start, and he handled it perfectly. He battled to keep the Avalanche in a game where they were peppered with shots through the first 40 minutes, only allowing his first two goals of the season after Arizona had surrendered two of their own as well. His night wasn’t absolutely perfect, but it was about as good as you can ask from a player no one knew what to expect from — and if he’s able to keep playing like that this year, Colorado should be in pretty good shape in net moving forward.
- Cale Makar had some stiff competition heading into the season in the Calder competition — and while the other notable rookies may continue to heat up too, it’s hard to deny that he hasn’t been one of Colorado’s most dynamic players when they need him most. His OT scoring opportunity was absolutely stunning to watch, and his composure against a team that was starving to win was impressive for a first-year player. Considering he’s likely to only keep getting better, it’s pretty safe to say that he’s given fans a lot to get excited about.