It was a battle of backups for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday evening, as Malcolm Subban and Pavel Francouz faced off in front of a 17,954-strong crowd at T-Mobile Arena for a Sin City preseason tilt.
The Vegas crowds continued to impress for a brand-new hockey market, but the home team was decidedly less stellar than the attendance. Paul Stastny made his preseason debut and the Avalanche left the majority of their veterans up in the press box, but even a depth-dominated Colorado lineup wasn’t enough for Vegas to avoid a sound defeat when the final buzzer went off. A 4-1 final score in favor of the Avalanche gave Colorado their second preseason win, while the Golden Knights took home their first preseason defeat in a game that could have gone a lot more smoothly for their back end.
Bo Byram and Conor Timmins getting another look for the Avs
Avs playing mostly AHLers - Zadorov, Calvert, Nieto, Connauton the veterans
The Avalanche gave hopefuls like Bowen Byram, Martin Kaut, and Conor Timmins another look, but the majority of the roster was either AHL-bound or made up of veterans who won’t necessarily be the season’s game-changers.
It wasn’t the best showing of the preseason for Byram, who got off to a rough start after getting beat easily to the outside by Golden Knights winger Keegan Kolesar for a quality scoring chance.
But Matt Calvert, of all players, took the reins and showed off some veteran leadership with a strong early showing; he took a great pass from TJ Tynan on an odd-man rush just over halfway through the period to put the Avalanche up 1-0 early on.
No one else would find the back of the net for either team after 20 minutes, but the 1-0 lead would set the tone for the rest of the game — and although it wasn’t the ugliest goal the Avalanche would score, it was a promising start for a team that was hoping to see some major stand-outs among the players who don’t make up the marquee names in the lineup.
The Avalanche hopefuls were good for a strong powerplay effort right off the jump, with a nice chance coming at the hands of Martin Kaut before the second period had even really gotten under way.
Just as the penalty expired, though, the team’s efforts were rewarded. Vladislav Kamenev scored on Subban after a nice pass from AJ Greer, with a second assist coming from the still-impressive Calvert to put the Avalanche up 2-0 and really get things rolling.
If Matt Calvert was the veteran hustling, though, Nikita Zadorov was the veteran who didn’t necessarily want to be there. He took a bad penalty — and although it ultimately didn’t change the pace of the game, it wasn’t a good look for the blue liner hoping to keep his role with the club moving forward.
Val Nichushkin would miss a chunk of the second after blocking a shot, but the real action came thanks to former University of Denver forward Logan O’Connor. The tenacious right winger took advantage after a handful of failed power-plays to put the Avalanche up 3-0, helping the club skate away from their second frame nursing an impressive lead and a 15-5 shooting advantage for the second period alone.
Jayson Megna didn’t get a chance to face off against his brother Jaycob, who skates for Vegas — but that didn’t stop him from having an impressive night, putting up back to back dangerous shifts with the Matt’s Nieto and Calvert. He capped off an impressive game when he capitalized on a terrible turnover from Vegas — and some questionably aggressive goaltending from Dave Prior disciple Malcolm Subban — to make the score 4-0 with 11:27 to go in the game.
It would take the Avalanche another two minutes after that fourth goal to allow their first shot against of the period, and it seemed like they were destined to pick up a shutout on the road.
Even the most dominant of games can be spoiled in a second, though; a lackluster shift from Zadorov and a slip in focus for Francouz gave Vegas their first and only goal of the game to ultimately produce a 4-1 final decision.
The Avalanche skated away from Vegas with a 32-17 shot differential and a monster game for a handful of players, including Nichushkin — who would block two more shots late in the third period even after his earlier game shot-blocking injury. And although it was a learning experience for some of the younger players (like Byram, who struggled a bit, and Kaut, who took an abuse of offical minor with three minutes to go in the game), it was ultimately a positive overall experience for the players Colorado will need to see the most from this year.
- It was a positive game for Calle Rosen, who made the case that he’s ready to be a full time NHLer. He wasn’t alone, though; Conor Timmins once again showed that he hasn’t missed a beat even with his injuries, leading all Avs in TOI with 19:19 on the night.
- The Avalanche have a strong leadership core in stars like Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson, but games like Wednesday’s are a nice reminder that Matt Calvert provides more than just a nice locker room presence. The veteran forward was flying, looking like arguably the best Avalanche forward for most of the night. It’s easy to be a positive voice for young players in the locker room, but Calvert did a phenomenal job setting the tone for the game early on and showing the team’s prospects how to play a full 60-minute game — even when the final score ultimately doesn’t matter.
- If Calvert was the ideal leader, though, Zadorov was the opposite. He looked a bit like he didn’t want to be there most of the night — and even if that’s understandably the case for the majority of veteran players during preseason hockey, he’ll need to do a better job of hiding it with a plethora of young defenders breathing down his neck this year.
- TJ Tynan is really fun to watch. That’s it; that’s the tweet.
- Martin Kaut had his best performance of the preseason, but his game still left a little to be desired. He’d have one great shift followed by two invisible ones, and had one high-end period while the other two were just meh. It might be the higher expectations he faces, but his game clearly still has some growing left.
- Kevin Connauton was outplayed by the younger defenders — and although there’s ultimately still a third-round pick to be used from the trade that brought him to town, it’ll be a disappointment if he can’t produce after being picked up for Carl Soderberg.
- Pavel Francouz wasn’t tested much, but looked pretty solid when he was. It’s hard to really gauge a goaltender using preseason hockey as a measuring stick, but it was a nice reminder that the Czech-born NHL rookie should be a lot of fun to watch as he adjusts to the league this year.
- Bowen Byram looked like a kid with a ton of skill, but he still seems like he needs to physically mature a bit in order to really thrive in the NHL.