Heading into the second game of their road trip the Colorado Avalanche were in better shape in regards to the lineup and for the first time all season had their top line together. Though this was just the fourth game on the season the Avalanche were desperately seeking a win which they did not find in Florida. Their effort was improved albeit inconsistent at times still and ended up in a 4-1 loss.
This contest opened with a bit of a feeling out process for both teams but a strange play caused the first goal in the game for the Florida Panthers as they cashed in on Sam Girard going hard into the boards trying to beat out an icing. Gabe Landeskog missed his check and then slipped giving Florida a wide open space to work with which Sam Reinhart took advantage of. Girard left the game briefly but returned and finished out the contest making some key defensive stops along the way.
After killing off a penalty the Avalanche responded and tied the game with just under a minute remaining in the period, which also involved Girard. He’s able to take a shot right in the slot as he gets hit and Mikko Rantanen who found the rebound for his second goal of the year. It was a small victory to finish the period out tied 1-1 and also only conceding six shots to the Panthers as well.
The second period continued on mostly even until Mikko Rantanen was called on a cheap goaltender interference infraction. The penalty kill had stood tall up to the point but the Panthers wore down the first unit and Sam Bennett threw a laser past Jonas Johansson at 9:04.
After a flurry of chances where Bowen Byram beautifully set up both Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon on sure goals the Panthers scored just before the period expired. Despite giving up 23 ! shots on goal the Avalanche had moments where they looked dangerous and could have tied the game but unfortunately it was Florida who got on the board for that all-important insurance marker. With just under a minute to go and get out of the frame to regroup Gabe Landeskog turned the puck over and then Carter Verhaeghe walked into the slot got one in the net. It was a back breaker especially after Johansson made several big saves leading up to that sequence. The score was 3-1 after two with a big hole to dig out of again.
In the third period it was pretty much the same story as the previous two games as the Avalanche tried generating some momentum through mostly garbage time and then pulled their netminder for the extra attacker to hopefully get a couple cheap goals and sneak the game to overtime. Again, this strategy did not work and Panthers 2020 first round pick Anton Lundell scored in the empty net with just over a minute to go and sealed the 4-1 Florida victory.
The Avalanche have endured their share of adversity thus far into the season but their best players just simply haven’t been good enough. Nathan MacKinnon was held without a shot on goal and only attempted one shot at even strength despite repeatedly trying to skate through the entire opposition. Landeskog clearly was still trying to find his groove but also made some poor decisions. It may be time to see what can be done away from each other as they are got caved in as a line and only held 36% Corsi For in this game. Some of the other lines are getting rushes and chances but there’s nobody to finish. Perhaps mixing things up until the top players find their game is an available solution. Even though this was their first game back together none of them have been good enough individually through the four games and just waiting for things to get back to normal might cost more points in the standings.
Cale Makar continued his strange start to the season fighting the puck most of the night. The coaching staff made a good decision to pair Makar with Byram and the duo seemed to work better than the Girard-Makar adventure the previous couple of nights. Byram held up better with 62% share of expected goals while Makar had 39%, both were on the ice for seven scoring chances for but Byram saw 5 against and Makar had 13 against. Hopefully the loss does not discourage future use of the two together because they will eventually create offense and have come close already with some budding chemistry.
The officiating handed out a couple questionable calls in this one but the Avalanche had their chances on the power play going 0/3 in this contest and the squad has yet to score on a 5v4 advantage this season. The penalty kill has given up far too many to begin the season as well and a special teams tuneup is in order especially until the team can begin scoring at 5v5 to make up the deficit.
At this point it should be abundantly clear that this season is not going to be a repeat of what was seen earlier in 2021. With 78 games remaining anything can happen and the finish is a lot more important than the start. But it might be time to start taking the division and it’s opponents much more seriously as a threat as now the Avalanche are only ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks.
The final game in the state of Florida on Saturday, October 23rd at 5pm MT against the Tampa Bay Lightning.