As fans have been all too quick to point out, Adam Werner won’t get credit for an official shutout in his NHL debut Tuesday night thanks to a ‘shared shutout’ technicality.
But the quiet, unassuming Swedish goaltender made sure the NHL knew his name regardless of what will go in record books, backstopping Colorado from :31 seconds into their game against the Winnipeg Jets and facing all 40 of Winnipeg’s shots for in an unofficial shutout debut.
He ensured that Colorado would stay in third place in the Western Conference, helping the Avalanche get a valuable two points without either their starting goaltender or backup in a crucial divisional matchup. They advanced to 11-5-2 on the season, keeping the team heading in the right direction even as they lost yet another valuable player to injury.
The Avalanche came into the game desperate to keep some momentum building following their 9-2 win over Nashville and their 4-2 win over Columbus, which helped to stop their five game losing skid.
It seemed like they were going to lose all of their positive forward momentum when, just :31 seconds into the game, Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele bowled into starter Pavel Francouz and injured the rookie netminder. He had to be helped off the ice, giving Adam Werner an unexpected nod less than a minute into the game and with just nine AHL games played so far this year.
The Avalanche and Jets more or less traded possession during the first period, finishing the 20 minutes with nine shots in favor of Winnipeg and eight for Colorado. But a late-period game for Cale Makar put the Jets on the defensive from the end of the first frame on — and although they would slowly shift the game in their favor possession-wise, Werner made sure that they never got a chance to really get themselves back in and steal the game back.
Makar’s goal would be joined by a two-goal, four-point night for Nathan MacKinnon, the only remaining healthy player from Colorado’s top line. And Joonas Donskoi would chip in with the fourth and final goal of the night, adding to a three-goal third period onslaught by Colorado to help the team skate away with the 4-0 final score despite getting outshot in that last frame by a 19-9 margin.
There are plenty of takeaways to the game; Cale Makar is up to 18 points in 18 games so far, Nathan MacKinnon contributed on all four of the team’s goals, and Joonas Donskoi has continued to be one of the most impressive pick-ups Joe Sakic has made in free agency as general manager.
But the biggest takeaway by far was how well Adam Werner managed to play.
Werner would be forgiven if he struggled in first first North American pro season at any level, let alone in the NHL. But he handled a game that ramped up in intensity in his zone with each passing period with poise, confidence, and control. It could have easily been a game that got out of hand for Colorado, but instead the team was able to leave the defensive playmaking to Werner and focus on getting on the board — four different times, for that matter.
The hope, obviously, is that the Avalanche won’t need to see just yet if Werner’s performance was a one-off. Even if he played incredibly well in this first NHL game, he’ll obviously do even better if he’s given a little more time to develop his play at the AHL level and continue adjusting to North American ice.
But the Avalanche made a massive gamble this season when they started the year with just one goaltender with any kind of significant NHL experience. They had to hope that either they wouldn’t experience any goaltender injuries, or that the inexperienced goaltenders would be able to step up seamlessly when those injuries did occur. And so far, in the wake of the former hope clearly not coming true, the latter has managed to work out just fine.