The Colorado Avalanche would cruise to a 5-1 win over rival Minnesota Wild on the backs of secondary scoring and a power play that got multiple chances throughout. The fourth line would stand out tonight with Logan O’Connor getting recalled to take the spot of injured Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and opening his scoring tally for the season early on.
It wasn’t all good for Colorado however, with Erik Johnson leaving the game half way through the first period and not returning to the game. With Devon Toews out, losing Johnson leaves the Avalanche defense corps short-handed and very young.
Injury aside, the Avalanche performed extremely well tonight with the second power play unit rolling and top line putting in a dominant 5v5 performance in the victory.
The Avalanche would be without a host of important contributors tonight with Devon Toews, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Matt Calvert and Pavel Francouz all out and nursing injuries. Tyson Jost slotted into Bellemare’s fourth line center role, with Conor Timmins getting recalled from the taxi squad in place of Toews.
The Wild are missing personnel of their own with Kevin Fiala getting suspended for an ugly hit on the Los Angeles Kings’ Matt Roy. Tonight’s matchup also marked the return of old friend Ian Cole.
Colorado comes out flying, spending nearly three minutes in the offensive zone. The fourth pair in particular came out buzzing and were rewarded quickly.
O’Connor gets his first of the season to cap off a hot start for the Avalanche. The finish may have been a little fortunate to find the back of the net, but it was a deserved goal for the fourth line. The goal would also mark Cale Makar’s 10th assist on the young season. Makar is on a point-per-game pace and looks like he’s out to prove his Calder trophy will only be the first piece of hardware in his case.
The excitement wouldn’t last long, as Minnesota would start to ramp up the physicality in response to getting blown off the ice in the first five minutes of the contest.
Wild defender Matt Dumba makes a nice play and gets insanely lucky, as his shot deflects off Philipp Grubauer’s mask and into the top netting to even the contest at one goal a piece.
The game would stay knotted at one, but the Avalanche would take a big loss as veteran defender Johnson would take a nasty looking fall after a hit by Jordan Greenway results in Johnson’s head, neck and shoulder area hitting the ice hard. Johnson would not return, leaving the Avalanche with five defenders for the two plus periods of hockey remaining.
Play would start to get animated at this point, with both teams getting feisty. Tyson Jost found himself in the middle of a scrum after Jared Spurgeon checked Jost into Wild netminder Kaapo Kahkonen. Soon thereafter Ryan Suter would find himself in the penalty box for tripping, giving the Avalanche their first power play of the evening.
It would be the second power play unit cashing in the Suter penalty, with Joonas Donskoi netting his fourth goal of the season with three seconds left in the period to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead.
The period would end with Colorado up 2-1 and Ryan Graves in the middle of a swarm of Wild players.
Colorado started the second period in much the same way as the first, buzzing around in the Minnesota defensive zone and peppering Kahkonen with shots. The Wild goaltender dealt with an opening flurry from Mikko Rantanen and Makar, but the dam wouldn’t hold long as Rantanen scored his seventh of the season only three minutes into the period.
An absolutely gorgeous shot from Rantanen would double the Avalanche lead. Even with nearly two full periods left to play, it was noticeable how dominant the MacKinnon/Landeskog/Rantanen line was 5v5 throughout tonight’s game. It’s going to be a long four game set for the Wild if they cannot find a way to slow down the top line of the Avalanche.
The Wild would get their chance to get back into the game after a MacKinnon tripping penalty at 13:36 in the period. However, Minnesota would not be able to score against the third ranked Avalanche power play with JT Compher and Valeri Nichushkin both nearly grabbing short hand markers against the Wild power play. Carson Soucy would close out the second for the Wild by taking six minutes of penalties in the last 10 minutes of the period.
The Wild would survive both penalty kills and the period would end with more extra-curricular activity. There will definitely be some fireworks by the end of this four game set if the action between the whistles were any indication tonight.
The Avalanche would head into the final frame with a two goal lead and get an early chance for the power play with a Greenway double minor. Both power play units would look out of sync on the four minutes of the man advantage and the two goal lead would remain.
A slashing penalty on Landeskog with 13:06 left in the game would give the Wild a chance to get back into the game with plenty of time, however a fantastic save from Philipp Grubauer off a one-time cannon from Dumba would keep the two goal advantage for Colorado. You could feel the energy drain from the Wild after the penalty kill and the Avalanche would take advantage.
Brandon Saad would not be denied after hitting the post, getting the puck back after wrapping around the back of the net to bury his fourth goal of the season. Dumba would get carried to the locker room after being taken out incidentally by his own team mate in the build up for the goal. The injury didn’t look good for the Minnesota defender and it looks like he may be on the shelf for quite some time.
Less than three minutes after the Saad goal, Minnesota would take their sixth penalty of the evening, with Zach Parise going to the box for tripping. As other teams have learned, you cannot give the Colorado Avalanche multiple chances on the power play; a lesson that Minnesota would learn after JT Compher buried his first goal of the season on the ensuing penalty.
The Wild would close out the game with the mother of all slashes, as Ryan Hartman destroys Samuel Girard’s stick to put the Avalanche on the power play for the seventh time on the night to close out the game.
From the first few minutes of the game it was clear that Colorado was easily the better and more talented team on the ice. The speed throughout all four lines of Jared Bednar’s squad made five on five look like an Avalanche power play for much of the evening.
The power play had an interesting night, going two for seven on the evening. The second unit was clicking, getting both goals with the man advantage tonight. Special teams have been fantastic for Colorado so far this season, with both units ranking in the top ten of league rankings. After last season where there were questions about special teams, it is nice to see every unit working so smoothly.
The early injury to Johnson put a spotlight on the young defense corps of the Avalanche and the Colorado defenders were up to the task. Both Girard and Byram stood out for their passing accuracy and surprising physicality against a Wild team that was more than willing to muck up the game to neutralize the skating advantage held by Colorado. Byram, highlighted by a punishing reverse check in the third period, showed that despite being only 19, he’s ready for the physical aspect of the NHL game.
Avalanche 5 - 1 Wild
Shots: Avalanche 33 - 20 Wild
Power Play: Avalanche 2/7 - Wild 0/2
Faceoffs: Avalanche 48% - Wild 52%
PIM: Avalanche 4 - Wild 14
Hits: Avalanche 5 - Wild 21
Blocked Shots: Avalanche 4 - Wild 18
The Avalanche (6-3-0) and Wild (5-4-0) play game two of their four game set tomorrow (Sunday, 1/31/2021) in St. Paul. The Avalanche will look to extend their winning streak to four with Hunter Miska looking likely to start in net.