After dominating the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night the Colorado Avalanche returned to Ball Arena to face the Minnesota Wild. Coming into this game Colorado was looking to get their first win streak of the season with a win over their division rival Minnesota, and they did just that thanks to great performances by Colorado’s star players.
The game got off to a slow start with both teams failing to create much offense. Through about four minutes there were a combined two shots between the teams, both belonging to Minnesota. Slowly both teams started to get up to speed with Colorado getting up to tempo first, helped by a great opportunity from Nathan MacKinnon who made an outside-inside loose puck around a Wild defender but Cam Talbot halted the attempt.
Halfway through the first most of Colorado caught up with MacKinnon’s speed, especially the third line, who had a nice rush thanks to Bowen Byram carrying the puck from end to end and feeding Tyson Jost a one timer in the high slot, but again Talbot made a great save to keep the game scoreless.
Minnesota got their first big opportunity of the game a little over halfway through the first when Erik Johnson had gotten Ryan Hartman to lose the puck, but chose to try and make a hit on the player, which the Hartman evaded and got a good shot on Darcy Kuemper, who made his first big save of the game. It wouldn’t be his last big save, because shortly after the initial opportunity the Wild got a flurry of shots in the slot, but Kuemper shut them down.
The way MacKinnon played in the first it was clear Minnesota wasn’t going to keep him off the score sheet this game, more or less the period. Colorado’s Mikko-less top line got their first goal as a line thanks to a quick counter attack. After Minnesota got the puck out of the zone MacKinnon sent a hard cross ice pass to Burakovsky who was on the bench side boards. Burakovsky then one touched the puck Gabriel Landeskog, who was completely open on the far side of the net after Minnesota expected Burakovsky to shoot. Landeskog put in the easy tap in goal to make the game 1-0 for Colorado with six minutes left in the first.
The Avalanche gained a lot of momentum from this goal to finish the first period. Colorado’s second line had the best cycle of the period immediately after Colorado’s first goal and MacKinnon set up a nice chance for Erik Johnson after evading a swarm of Wild players in the corner, but Minnesota blocked the shot to keep the score 1-0 in Colorado’s favor heading into the second period.
Colorado started the second period much like the first, slowly. Fortunately for Colorado Kuemper stood tall and saved the few shots he received to start the period. Minnesota couldn’t get many high danger opportunities to start the period, so Kuemper didn’t have an excessive work load. However, Minnesota got a good chance after a soft pass from Ryan Murray to the middle of the offensive zone that allowed Wild defenseman Calen Addison to get a dangerous shot from the half boards on Darcy Kuemper. Addison took a half slap shot low glove side on Kuemper, who flashed the leather to maintain the Avalanche lead.
The game got its first penalty of the second period after Gabriel Landeskog retaliated on a late hit by Matt Dumba. The Wild were able to control the puck for most of their power play, due to the Avalanche failing to clear the puck when they had the chance, but Colorado stayed tough and blocked anything that came near them. Kuemper did have to make some saves, but nothing of very high quality.
Less than a minute after Minnesota’s first power play they were awarded with a second power play when Bowen Byram gave Ryan Hartman a tap on the stick and Hartman dropped it like a hot potato. Minnesota would score on a bumper play from who else but Ryan Hartman. Kuemper got some of the shot with his blocker arm, but the shot had enough momentum it squeaked through to even the game at one.
The hockey gods would quickly prove that “puck don’t lie” when Colorado responded with a goal of their own less than a minute later, again from the first line. Gabriel Landeskog started off the play with a big hit in the Avalanche zone, which allowed him to spring Nathan MacKinnon for who dumped the puck deep and blew up Jonas Brodin in the bench side corner. MacKinnon then walked out of the corner and found Erik Johnson in the slot. Johnson didn’t waste his opportunity this time, and glided down the slot untouched before releasing a shot that squeaked through Talbot’s arm for his first goal of the season.
Not much happened either way for the remaining two minutes of the second and Colorado took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
The third period started with a bang when Brandon Duhaime cross checked Bowen Byram from behind, sending Byram hard into the boards behind the Avalanche net about three minutes into the period. Nathan MacKinnon responded quickly to Duhaime’s dirty hit and the two fought, with MacKinnon landing a few punches on Duhaime’s shoulder before the two fell to the ground. Duhaime was given a 5 minute major for cross checking and both him and MacKinnon received offsetting roughing penalties, giving the Avalanche a power play.
After what was a very slow start for Colorado, the Avalanche picked up a goal just thirty seconds into their five minute power play. With MacKinnon in the box and Andre Burakovsky out since the second period with a lower body injury Colorado had to put out a first power play unit of JT Compher, Tyson Jost, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, and Cale Makar. JT Compher took MacKinnon’s role on the zone entry and his rush straight up the middle to start the power play got the Avalanche their opportunity to score. Compher dished the puck to Landeskog on the penalty-box-side boards, who then gave Nazem Kadri a pass right in his wheelhouse through the royal road for a one timer. Kadri beat Cam Talbot short side, low glove to extend Colorado’s lead to two.
With about a minute left in the five minute major, Colorado received a five on three opportunity when Ryan Hartman made a dangerous trip on Bowen Byram while Byram was entering the zone. Colorado had a very good power play up until this point, and continued to create good opportunities for the five on three and the remainder of the power play, but couldn’t quite finish them.
Once the power plays expired ten minutes had gone by in the third and Minnesota made their final push. For seven and a half of the remaining ten minute Minnesota controlled possession in the Avalanche zone, but only managed four shots. Colorado’s defense did a good job blocking shots and held the shots they couldn’t block to the perimeter of the zone.
Eventually the Wild pulled Talbot after earning an offensive zone faceoff with two and a half minutes left in the game, giving them one last push before the final buzzer. They didn’t get much of a chance to push because before the could even get a shot on net JT Compher sent the puck to Gabriel Landeskog who carried the puck through the neutral zone and tried to tap the puck to Nathan MacKinnon for the Gordie Howe hat trick. MacKinnon couldn’t get to the puck because he got tackled by Kevin Fiala, the last man back for Minnesota, but fortunately for Colorado Landeskog’s initial pass had enough momentum that it bounced off the far post and barely in to the empty net, sealing Colorado’s victory.
This was a great game for Colorado to finish out what had been a tough month for them. After playing seven of their eight games against teams that had made the postseason each of the past two years Colorado finished out October with two tough wins against the hottest teams in the West.
Colorado had some lackluster starts to all three periods, but each time they picked up their play and out worked Minnesota. Outside of these starts it was hard to find a player that truly didn’t play well tonight. Colorado’s top performers were who they should be almost every night, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Nazem Kadri, and Darcy Kumper.
MacKinnon and Landeskog each put up two assist nights, with Landeskog adding two goals, and they were both flying around the ice, no matter who they were paired with. It was nice to see Nathan MacKinnon return to doing the things that make him one of the top players in the world, as opposed to the flashes we had seen so far this year. He was walking around guys, firing pucks towards the net, and bodying anyone who got between him and the puck, all while wearing the wrong gloves, for some reason. Landeskog also did what he does best, forecheck, backcheck, and finish.
Makar didn’t have as good of a game as we know he can have, but even when he couldn’t do Cale Makar things offensively he shut the Wild down defensively by breaking up passes and laying the body, something he has gotten much more comfortable doing lately.
Nazem Kadri continued his great start to the season tonight after netting his second goal in back to back games. Kadri, much like MacKinnon and Landeskog, did what you wanted him to do. What makes it much more impressive is the fact he had none of his usual linemates with him for the second game in a row.
Darcy Kuemper has finally found his groove with the Avalanche. Kuemper earned his .961 SV% tonight by bailing out the Avalanche on several occasions and staying calm during the few net front scrambles Minnesota had. One of the most notable improvements in Kuemper’s game was his blocker side. After getting shelled there in his first few games of the season he shut down any shot that came to his blocker. His puck handling ability has also been one of my favorite aspects of his game. He gets to it quickly and makes a fast play to help out the Avalanche defenders.
Some other notable performances from tonight came from Logan O’ Connor, Sampo Ranta, and Andre Burakovsky.
O’ Connor and Ranta did a great job cycling the puck with Kadri on that second line, which the coaches purposefully kept intact after the Burakovsky injury. This was by far Ranta’s best game so far with the Avalanche and it will be great to see him get his first point, because he needs to gain some confidence from that.
In the forty minutes Burakovsky played he was doing much better than he has so far this year. This game and the St. Louis game have been big steps back towards him being the player we saw in his first two seasons with the team. He’s been engaged everywhere on the ice, he’s been laying the body occasionally, and he finally got rewarded for his hard work on a really nice pass to Landeskog. I like how he fits with Landeskog and MacKinnon, a lot more than he has done in the past with MacKinnon and Rantanen. The only thing that needs to come in his game is the finishing. It’s why he’s here and he keeps getting so close, but not converting. In his post game presser coach Jared Bednar said keeping Burakovsky out for the third was cautionary and they would see where he’s at moving forwards soon.
Like I said there weren’t many negatives tonight, but the third line of Martin Kaut, Tyson Jost, and JT Compher need to be better than they were tonight, especially offensively. I don’t think the line is a good fit moving forward. Jost and Compher have never really played too well together, and Compher can’t carry the offense that both Jost and Kaut lack. Today Kaut was the line’s best player, but overall the line needs to find some chemistry, if they have another chance together, because the team doesn’t have many other options as is.
Colorado has a three day break before kicking off November against Columbus back at Ball Arena next Wednesday. Until then you can find all the Avalanche coverage you need here at Mile High Hockey. Have a happy Halloween!