With a lineup that continues to keep everyone guessing the Colorado Avalanche emerged from their near two-week COVID-19 forced hiatus without Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Gabe Landeskog among other regular players and still kept the game close against the Vegas Golden Knights in a 1-0 defeat.
In the first period the rust and disjointed lineup were apparent as the Avalanche took two early penalties but continued their impressive penalty kill work and killed them off. By the end of the period shots were even at 9 apiece and the Avalanche had started generating a few chances.
The second frame provided the only score as Max Pacioretty continued his hot start and found a loose puck which zipped through traffic and into the back of the net just a little over a minute into the period. Philipp Grubauer continued his strong play as he kept the Avalanche in the contest when Vegas got a flurry of shots at the end of the period.
The Avalanche only got one power play of their own as the referees started letting everything go and in the third period there just was too much sludge to generate any quality chances. They worked hard in what was an eventual 30-24 shot and 60% expected goals advantage but were just missing that extra speed as a whole and finishing skill. Marc-Andre Fleury was solid and earned his shutout but he didn’t have to make too many difficult saves. Despite the low score and lack of execution at times felt like the beginning of a battle between two good teams, as it should.
Cale Makar, who has a chance to return in the next contest per Jared Bednar, and Samuel Girard were sorely missed but the defense as a whole stepped up. In particular Bowen Byram who played just over 23 minutes total and led the team in even strength time on ice. While he didn’t get the chance for fireworks in the offensive zone he put in a big defensive effort matched up against William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault in particular. With five hits and three blocked shots as well he’s matching his profile of the type of defenseman he was in junior who can stay on the ice forever and contribute in all zones. The poise and calmness he brought to the back end in what was a very chaotic game was very noticeable.
Nathan MacKinnon did not look dialed in through this game and the team as a whole will need to find goal scoring if they want to have success against Vegas in the coming week. If any reinforcements are able to join the team would help matters as well as curbing the injury crisis. Bednar indicated in his postgame comments that Girard, Tyson Jost and Gabe Landeskog could all be available by the outdoor game on Saturday. Still, it is a good sign the team is working hard regardless of who is in the lineup especially after such a long layoff but they will need a fuller complement of players to push for the division title. Hopefully this is their adversity for the season.
Another game in Vegas to continue this four-game stretch against the Golden Knights on Tuesday, February 16th at 8pm MT.