Although Nathan MacKinnon jetted into the lineup for this game the Colorado Avalanche still took its patchwork show on the road for their first trip to the eastern time zone in nearly two years. Enter the Washington Capitals who were an early formidable foe to test the 2021-22 version of this Avalanche team. That test failed as the Avalanche endured yet another railroading on the way to a 6-3 loss in the nation’s capital.
Evgeny Kuznetsov got the home team on the board first on a great individual effort splitting three Avalanche players and firing the puck past Darcy Kuemper just 6:15 into the game. The Avalanche were having trouble breakout of of their own zone and holding on to the puck with any authority so it was only a matter of time.
The Avalanche finally got a break which was a short handed goal from JT Compher at 13:46. It was a rare sight not only for Compher to get some much needed momentum going early on in his own season but because in the 2020-21 campaign the Avalanche only scored on goal on the penalty kill. Getting more aggressive and dangerous with the man disadvantage would be a welcome development.
That goal was the only positive for the Avalanche in the first period because they gave up another before the frame was over as Nick Jensen finished off a 3v1 at 16:53. The Avalanche were lucky to be down only one goal after getting outshot 19-5, not seeing much of the offensive zone and none of their top players firing on all cylinders.
In the second period there were signs of life and the Avalanche struck back just over three minutes into the period. Darren Helm finished off a great feed from Logan O’Connor and the Avalanche were back in business with a 2-2 tie game.
Unfortunately after another 10 minutes of encouraging play the Avalanche gave away the tie game they worked so hard to earn back. Anthony Mantha took advantage of some very poor defensive coverage from Ryan Murray and Kurtis MacDermid in particular at 14:47 which essentially took the wind out of Colorado’s sails. Kuznetsov scored another two minutes later to put the game out of reach on probably a shot Kuemper wouldn’t mind back. Despite clawing out an even 8-8 shot period the Capitals were up 4-2.
Any hope still lingering going into the third quickly evaporated in 39 seconds when the top line did everything wrong the first shift of the period and let Nic Dowd put icing on the cake to make it clear the Avalanche had no chance of executing a comeback.
For the second straight game Jared Bednar tried to get a spark by pulling Darcy Kuemper and going with the extra attacker. The Avalanche drew a penalty and hit a nice 6v4 goal from Mikko Rantanen in garbage time at 16:54. They left the net empty again but it didn’t take long for Alex Ovechkin to score his 734th career goal after an overall quiet affair and that was all she wrote, 6-3 final for Washington.
Where to start with this mess? It is only three games into an 82 game slate so many ups and downs are expected but already it feels like the Avalanche aren’t gelling and are searching for answers. The schedule does not let up with an upcoming tough pair of games in Florida to close out the road trip and then some familiar opponents in Vegas, St. Louis and Minnesota the following week. The Avalanche will likely become familiar with adversity before the month is up.
Obviously missing key pieces such as Devon Toews and two of Colorado’s better defensive forwards in Val Nichushkin and Gabe Landeskog missing adds to the malaise but the core players who have all been in the lineup haven’t been good enough. One doesn’t even need to pull out the fancy stats to see how bad the likes of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar were, each wearing a deserved -5 in this contest. The analytics aren’t kind to them either as none of them along with Sam Girard earned above 35% of the expected goals share.
A few bright spots this evening were the play of Darren Helm, Logan O’Connor and Sampo Ranta who at times brought life to the team and didn’t quit on their effort and battles when it was clear momentum was lost. Martin Kaut in his first game of the season didn’t play a whole lot at just over eight minutes was one of the few to hold his own analytically and approach an even share in Corsi and expected goals. He did enough to earn himself another game which is about the most that could be gleaned from this game.
The defense needs work which is unfortunate since they are mostly healthy on that front. It seems like Girard and Makar are not working well together and may be part of the issue. Makar doesn’t look comfortable handling the puck which doesn’t help matters. Bowen Byram, who was the only player with a positive Corsi for percentage, ended up +1 and contributed four hits in addition to his assist, has looked settled in and formed a solid pair with Erik Johnson thus far. Perhaps it might be time to shuffle the top four more especially since Byram and Makar had a couple electric shifts together, albeit in garbage time but the chemistry is there.
A flight south and then the first of two games in the Sunshine State is ahead. First up the formidable Florida Panthers on Thursday, October 21st at 5 p.m. MT.