The Colorado Avalanche picked up their first victory of the preseason in a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. As far as preseason hockey goes you’d be hard pressed to find a better game than this one. There was physicality, flashy goals, competitive play, everything there is to like about hockey in one throw away game at the end of September.
As far as the Avalanche are concerned it was a great game. The team played a solid game (outside of the defensive lapses that led to goals against), came out with a win, and had some of their most promising prospects shine.
Six minutes into the game Colorado started off the scoring with a MacKinnon-esque floater from the point courtesy of Nazem Kadri - in his first game back since being suspended. The shot seemed like it was tipped in front by Gabriel Landeskog but the captain seemed to have just provided the screen that allowed the goal to go in. Samuel Girard and Kadri also had a nice cycle that led to Kadri getting the shooting opportunity from the high slot.
A little less than five minutes after the Kadri goal Ryan Hartman quickly answered back on the power play with a one timer from the hash marks that squeaked through Kuemper. Kuemper seemed to get his glove hand/arm on the puck but it found a way to trickle in. The goal was a little leaky, but it’s hard to blame him for a point blank shot like that. Still nine out of ten times Kuemper should save that shot.
Colorado took very little time to respond to the Hartman goal with another goal from a returning player, Erik Johnson. Johnson scored his goal after another nice passing play, this time between Kadri and Landeskog, and whipped a little extended snapshot past Cam Talbot’s glove. Johnson had a very solid game overall. He blocked shots on the penalty kill, quarterbacked the second power play unit well, and played a two way game reminiscent of him in his prime.
Again, the Wild took very little time to answer back to Colorado’s goal (a common theme in this game) with another power play goal. After a battle along the boards a puck squeaked out to Kevin Fiala at the point, who quickly ripped a shot past the blocker side of Darcy Kuemper, who had very little time to react to the quick release. Martin Kaut was the closest man to Fiala and you would have liked to see him get in between Fiala and the net, but the play developed so quickly Kaut had little time to react.
Half way through the second the game really picked up in physicality and chippines after Marcus Foligno ran into Kuemper, with very little effort to avoid hitting him, after beating MacDermid wide, who gave Foligno a slight shove towards Kuemper. Immediately after the collision Dennis Gilbert dropped the gloves with Brandon Duhaime. Although the fight was in good spirit the entirety of the bout lasted about ten seconds and neither player landed a decent shot, but it was the thought that mattered.
The game was scoreless halfway through the second, until a chaotic play in front of the Colorado net that after a weird bounce off the side of the Avalanche net. Kurtis MacDermid made a wild pass right to the curved end of the net that bounced through a few bodies and popped out in front. Minnesota had a couple quality shots on Kuemper who made some nice saves, but unfortunately neither Jacob MacDonald or MacDermid could clear the rebound so Adam Beckman buried the Wild’s fourth or fifth shot in ten or so seconds. This would be Kuemper’s last shot of the game, as Jared Bednar would put in Justus Annunen for the last half of the game. The Wild would also swap goaltenders at this point, putting former Avalanche goaltender Andrew Hammond in for Cam Talbot.
The chippy play continued not too long after the Wild’s third goal. After making a pass just inside the Wild blueline Dmitry Kulikov laid a late high hit (similar to Kadri’s hit in the playoffs, but not as severe) and after getting up and planting himself in front of the net Kadri received another late hit and a cross check, both from Ryan Hartman. Kadri took exception to this and reciprocated the cross check to Hartman, which was the only thing called on the play. Landeskog also didn’t take too kindly to his teammate being cheap shotted in their first preseason and attempted to fight Hartman, but the refs intervened before the two could trade blows.
During the kill that followed the scrum Sampo Ranta did what Avalanche fans who followed him during his time in Minnesota know he does best. Drive the net. Ranta flew down the wing, cut to the middle and instead of stretching to the far side and putting the puck in around the goalie Ranta went against the grain and stuffed it through Hammond to help tie the game up.
In the shift immediately following the Ranta goal the Wild answered back with some extended pressure on Colorado and Annunen got to face his first real challenge of the game. The Wild had a flurry of five shots in a little under a minute that came from all different angles on the ice, but Annunen tracked them well and made some nice saves to help keep the game tied.
Unfortunately not too long after Minnesota’s push back they finally got one past Annunen off a weird deflection on a shot from the half wall. It was evident Annunen couldn’t really see the shot because he never even dropped into the butterfly. Annunen had an Avalanche defender and Mason Shaw (the goal scorer) in front of him, both kept him from being able to track the puck and allowed the Wild to get their lead quickly back.
Much like the second period the third started off with a lot of back and forth action until the Avalanche tied the game up a minute and a half after the halfway mark of the period. This goal was courtesy of Colorado’s line of rookies (Olausson, Newhook, and Ranta) great forecheck and cycle. The line had almost a minute of extended zone time where Ranta would circle the zone, cycle the puck with seemingly all four players on the ice, the line would get a shot on net, and repeat, until Olausson got the puck in the high slot and ripped a shot top corner over Hammond’s glove. This would be Olausson’s second goal in as many preseason games.
After another extended period of time of back and forth hockey Colorado would finally break the deadlock in what would prove to be the game winning goal. Very similar to Johnson’s goal in the first JT Compher and Alex Newhook weaved their way into the zone and pushed the defenseman back so that Girard had a wide open lane to the net from the circle. However, Girard had been committed to the slap shot the entire game and he wasn’t going to stop now, so doing his best Alexander Ovechkin impression he ripped a slap shot to the far side of the net past the glove hand of Hammond.
Only a minute after the goal Minnesota pulled Hammond to get a six on five advantage over the Avalanche. About thirty seconds after pulling Hammond the Wild won a battle along the bench sideboards and immediately got a shot off, which was tipped in by a wide open Ryan Hartman. Although not a single Avalanche player reacted to the goal because Hartman had tipped the puck down about five feet over the net, which referee Jordan Samuels-Thomas immediately waved off.
The ensuing face off the Avalanche decided they didn’t want to leave any more up to chance as Kadri cleanly won the face off to Erik Johnson who ripped the puck down the ice from his own blueline for his second goal of the game.
It was hard to find anyone in the Avalanche who played truly poorly tonight. There were some guys who you want to see more from but no one who I believe played too badly that they played themselves out of a position.
The best players tonight were the youngsters and the veterans (but mostly the youngsters).
The line of Ranta, Newhook, and Olausson looked great for the vast majority of the game. Olausson looked engaged everywhere on the ice and even had a few nice backchecks where he took the weak side guy and eliminated a Minnesota odd man rush and flashed his wicked shot once again. Newhook was a forechecking animal, finishing checks on anyone who got the puck like a prime Matt Calvert, and he almost got a goal in the second but met pipe when he tried to beat Talbot short side. Ranta was the best among them though. There were multiple times tonight where he calmly skated the puck around the entire offensive zone and dished it down low to create a scoring opportunity. His goal was also a great sign of an increased physical maturity, showing that he has the ability to inflict his will on NHL sized players. Ranta is going to force Colorado’s coaching staff’s hand when it comes to final cut day.
Erik Johnson and Sam Girard reunited were a two pairing no one would ever want to get near. They both played with physicality, moved the puck well, and, most importantly, didn’t get injured. This was a great game to see from the both of them. Johnson gave us a glimpse of why he was the St. Louis Blues first overall pick so many years ago and why he can still be an important piece on this defense. Girard gave us a look at what he can be if he plays with a consistent partner, something he didn’t have for the last half of the 2021 season, and that is one of the best two-way defenseman in the game.
Both goaltenders also showed well, although neither of them were exceptional. Darcy Kuemper and Justus Annunen both did what you’d expect your goalies to do in their first preseason game of the season, make the saves you expect, don’t get hurt, and be a little leaky.
As far as the other proven NHL players, there’s not much to say about them. They did what you expect NHLers to do against not NHLers, be better and produce.
This was a nice welcome back to Ball Arena and the first, of what is expected to be many, Colorado Avalanche victory’s in the building this season.