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Bad start costs Avalanche in season opener

The Colorado Avalanche can’t continue to fall behind early if they want to have a successful season

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As one of the favorites coming into the 2021 season, the Colorado Avalanche didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for. After dropping a 4-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues, the Avalanche will hope to bounce back in the rematch Friday night.

To avoid starting the season 0-2, the key will be to play a better, cleaner first period.

Despite the hype coming into the season opener, the Avalanche fell completely flat in the opening 20 minutes of game. They were out shot 17-5, and had it not been for some great play by Philipp Grubauer, the Avs could have been trailing by a lot more than one goal going into the first intermission.

The team looked sloppy and discombobulated, as if half the roster had never played together before. The systemic breakdowns manifested themselves mostly on the defensive side of the puck—the Avalanche gave up as many shot attempts in the opening 20 minutes as they did the following two periods combined.

What’s even more concerning is where the shot attempts came from. The vast majority of the 22 shot attempts against in the first period came from the “home plate” area in front of the net—meaning they were high-danger attempts. No team can do that if they want to win games. The Avalanche were giving up the middle of the ice for the sake of trying create space for the breakout, and the Blues were able to take advantage of it.

It looked as though the team was more focused on transition than they were on defending their own zone. The forwards were thinking offense before the defenders had possession, and the defenseman were taking big risks in the hopes of starting the breakout early. Cale Makar can do that, most NHL defenders can’t.

The Avalanche defense—as a whole, not just the blueliners—left Grubauer hanging out to dry far too often Wednesday night, particularly on the two first-period goals that put the Blues ahead for good.

We know the Avalanche like to play at a fast pace and try to overwhelm their opponents in transition. Sometimes that costs them on the defensive side of the puc. That was the case far too often Wednesday night.

Colorado’s blueline is young but talented. Last night we saw the youth more than the talent. The play also amplified the need for Erik Johnson. Despite his faults, Johnson is a steady presence for the Avalanche. It’s telling that more often than not, the games in which the Avs’ defense looks out of sorts are the ones where Johnson isn’t playing. Games like the one Wednesday night amplify the need to have him in the lineup.

The Avs woke up as the game went on, and much like last season, the second period was their best of the game. But they were behind early, allowing the Blues to play the lockdown game they employ so well.

Colorado will quickly have a chance for revenge, as the same two teams will face off again Friday night at Ball Arena for their second of eight matchups this season.