In a much anticipated dress rehearsal ahead of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers kicking off for real this weekend, division rivals Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild met for their one and only exhibition match. Though this game didn’t count it served as a much needed tune-up as the Avalanche received a lot of special teams work and tasked with holding a one goal third period lead, which they successfully achieved to earn a 3-2 win.
Before the game the two teams stood together during the anthem in unity. In particular Nazem Kadri, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway, the four players of color in the game, locked arms in a powerful display.
Joonas Donskoi got the Avalanche on the board first off of a Vlad Namestnikov shot for a rebound just over a minute into the game to produce that much needed fast start.
Minnesota answered back at 3:05 when they received the game’s first power play and then a few more subsequent penalties gave them a 4-on-3 advantage that Matt Dumba benefitted from as he deposited a cross-ice pass into the net.
The highlight moment of the game was when Nathan MacKinnon willed his way to the team’s second goal. With his signature burst of speed through the neutral zone MacKinnon made time stand still until he deposited the puck behind Wild netminder Alex Stalock at 4:47. It’s a shame such display wasn’t in prime time but there will be plenty of opportunity for that. MacKinnon can taste the Cup.
The first frame ended in a 2-2 tie as the Wild found the equalizer yet again on some suspect defensive zone coverage plus a funny bounce off the end boards allowed Eric Staal to bounce the puck off Philipp Grubauer at 14:06.
To begin the second period the Avalanche grabbed the lead back at 4:31 on a five on three once the players in white decided to shoot. Gabe Landeskog jammed home a rebound for the eventual game winning goal.
The special teams battle theme continued for the third period with five more penalties including a double minor high sticking call against Conor Timmins. Pavel Francouz was up to the task and thwarted all Wild advances. He was a perfect 14 for 14 on save attempts after entering midway through the second period. Francouz looked very calm, sharp and in control as the Avalanche held the one goal lead to secure the victory.
The game lacked a lot of flow due to the parade of penalties from both teams. The Avalanche do need a lot of special teams practice so it was one benefit from how the game unfolded. Officially the Wild were 1/8 on the power play and the Avalanche 1/5 with both goals against three defenders so there’s still work to be done on the offensive side. The Avalanche power play looked like they wanted to implement more movement but yet within the same typical structure so the jury is still out on any improvements to the unit.
Sharp defense was never expected in an exhibition setting but the absence of Sam Girard was certainly felt. Word is he is healthy but just held out as a precaution, which is great because the team’s defending and puck movement runs through him. Erik Johnson looked like he found a step during the pause but overall it was a disjointed unit. Cale Makar exhibited some rust and the aforementioned Timmins had some good moments in the offensive zone and with his stick work but was also overwhelmed in the defensive zone.
While the Avalanche scored enough to win they passed up some good opportunities looking to pass too often. Johnson led the team in shot attempts with five at even strength which shows the forwards need to get more involved in the offense to have sustained success moving forward.
All in all it looked largely like Avalanche hockey is back!
The first of three round-robin games for the Avalanche starting off with the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, August 2nd at 4:30pm MT.