The dawn of a new season is always hopeful, exciting and filled with a touch of anxiety. It will be a long and winding road until the Colorado Avalanche are able to answer questions about their playoff mettle, thus for the present they must embrace the grind of an 82 game season and take care of business one game at a time. Enter the Chicago Blackhawks, a familiar division foe who hasn’t been seen for quite some time but with some improvements to their roster wouldn’t be an easy team to defeat. However, a fast start with three quick goals in the first period and a special performance by Bowen Byram was all the Avalanche needed to secure a 4-2 win and their first two points in the standings.
Colorado jumped out of the gate with some energy and it quickly gave the home team some momentum. Both teams were a little sloppy with the puck but the Avalanche got the better looks and quickly took an early lead. Credit to reader Avanucks who correctly predicted it would be Jack Johnson to light the lamp for the first Avalanche goal of the season. Johnson received a great pass from JT Compher in the neutral zone and then went in all alone on new Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and scored on a nifty backhand shot at 4:26.
Just over a minute later Gabe Landeskog got in on the action and scored on of his patented tip deflection goals to double up the lead. The play started on a point shot from Erik Johnson which was first deflected by Nazem Kadri before getting through to Landeskog.
Then at 9:34 the true fireworks began when Bowen Byram scored his first career NHL goal. It was a signature look of his jumping off the bench on a change when Landeskog had possession down low and hit Byram up top who then carried the puck into the offensive zone and sniped Fleury top corner.
With the score now 3-0 the Avalanche were rolling but unfortunately gave one back to Chicago on the penalty kill at 16:47 when Dominik Kubalik thwarted the coverage and fired one past Avalanche netminder Darcy Kuemper. The Avalanche still ended the period with a 3-1 advantage on the score and a commanding 18-8 lead in shots.
The second period was a lot tighter for both teams and each were in search of swinging momentum in their direction. A vast section of this frame was also played entirely on special teams as the two club traded power plays, 4v4 and even a 4v3 situation. Both penalty kills held up and the score remained until Nazem Kadri added a goal to his earlier assist For his first score of the season. Byram also picked up his second point of the night as he jumped into the play and carried the puck all the way to the netfront and Kadri cleaned up the loose puck and poked it underneath Fleury at 16:12 of the period.
Kadri’s goal was the dagger for the Avalanche as Chicago got one back in the third period from Connor Murphy but it was too little too late especially as it occurred at 15:31 into the frame. The score also made Byram’s goal the game winner which was a nice bonus for him. There was a little late controversy as Gabe Landeskog laid a hard but awkward hit on Kirby Dach, who seemed fine in the aftermath, but it took Landeskog out of the last four minutes of the game.
The team as a whole had a very successful outing but the story of the evening was Bowen Byram who also earned first star of the game honors in addition to the two points and first NHL tally. His pairing with Erik Johnson controlled the game when they were on the ice together at a 80% Corsi For and 87% expected goals. Byram was flying all night, looking confident and much more aggressive as he had been in the preseason. It was the first time Byram got to play against the Blackhawks who passed him up in the draft is another fun wrinkly to the story. Kirby Dach was noticeable all night for Chicago so it’s no slight on him but with Byram in fold they perhaps wouldn’t have needed to hitch their wagon to Seth Jones for the next decade. Byram is just scratching the surface of his talent and ability to impact the game. This was exactly the start to the season he needed after waiting so long to get back into NHL action but also serves as notice on just how important he can be to the Avalanche moving forward.
It was a valiant group effort with Nathan MacKinnon out of the lineup and Devon Toews still not quite ready for game action. There were a couple of scares in the second period as Val Nichushkin seemed to jam his wrist into the board on a hit and Darren Helm absorbed a hard hit from Riley Stillman but both returned to the game and were able to play in the third period. Still, something to watch as the week moves forward and hopefully the Avalache’s thin forward depth isn’t tested even further with already needing Jayson Megna in the lineup.
If there was any sore spot this evening it would be special teams. Officially the Avalanche went zero-for-four on the power play and gave up one-in-three on the penalty kill. It is understandable things take time to get dialed in on these units especially as new players are involved with the penalty kill but it performed weak in the preseason plus the coverage doesn’t look sharp at all. MacKinnon’s return should help the power play but it too will need some fine-tuning as the season moves along,
Another home game against a division rival, this time the St. Louis Blues at 7pm MT on Saturday, October 16th.