Back to the scene of the crime where the Colorado Avalanche saw their contending season end in Las Vegas just over three months ago. A lot has transpired since then with several new faces added and the group begins to gear up for the 2021-22 season which hopefully delivers a better ending. But first, the Avalanche must get a six-game preseason slate out of the way and it began with this tilt back in the desert against the Vegas Golden Knights. The spirited affair went back and forth but eventually ended in a 4-3 victory for the Golden Knights.
With a heavy veteran lineup for Vegas it was no surprise they got on the board first early in the opening period. The Golden Knights were able to get to a loose rebound first and then Patrick Brown deposited the change just over two minutes into the game.
The Avalanche were not discouraged, however, and following a few decent shifts in the offensive zone they answered back at 10:06 on a lethal shot by none other than Oskar Olausson who scored his first goal on NHL ice. The play was set up by a nice pass from Val Nichushkin and then Olausson was the trailer coming into the zone. Olausson had a couple impactful shifts before the tally so it was a well deserved reward for the 18-year old.
Before the end of the period Vegas regained the lead when Nick Hague converted on their second power play at 15:57. After one period of play the score was 2-1 Vegas and a 11-7 shots in their favor as well.
The second period was a pretty even affair but the Avalanche started slowly gathering momentum as they drew two late period power plays and finally converted right after the second one had expired. Bowen Byram got on the board at just over a minute to go with a perfectly placed missile in the corner of the net just above Vegas goaltender Laurent Brossoit. The Avalanche departed the period with a 2-2 tie and their own 10-7 advantage in shots for the period.
Pavel Francouz exited just after the halfway mark of the second period and finished with 14 saves on 16 shots. After allowing the rebound and first goal of the game early on in the first period he settled in and looked more comfortable in his first start since the playoffs in Edmonton in 2020.
The third period started with a push from Vegas who clearly had motivation to close out the game in front of their home crowd but it was Jack Johnson who grabbed the lead for the visitors on a point shot which was then tipped into the net by a Golden Knight at 6:18.
That lead for the Avalanche was short lived as Vegas answered back to tie the game again at 7:44 when Alex Pietrangelo deposited a point shot of his own against some of the younger opponents who had blown a few coverage assignments. Jonas Johansson was now in net for this one and was shaking off the rust as well.
After the Avalanche failed to convert on a couple late third period power plays it was Vegas who made good on their own at 15:50. Jonathan Marchessault found loose puck amid some poor down low coverage and put Vegas ahead for good and a 4-3 final score. Just for fun a shootout followed regulation and the Avalanche “won” this contest 2-1 receiving goals from yet again Oskar Olausson and Shane Bowers.
Exhibition season is largely meaningless for many veteran players who have their roster spots and roles locked up but for those on try-out or are prospects looking to advance their careers these games are of critical importance. Those in the first group as “try-outs” were in the lineup for this game as the organization gets an early look at what they can provide. It was a tale of two opposites as Jack Johnson performed well in his role picking up a goal and assist but was pretty mistake free and a good match with Byram. On the other hand Artem Anisimov looked a step behind most of the evening and despite a couple nice plays with his linemates Logan O’Connor and Darren Helm showed he still has a long way to go in order to earn that contract with the Avalanche.
There were a few of the organization’s top prospects in this game and each had a solid showing for different reasons. Oskar Olausson scored the goal but had a pretty favorable game overall on the “top line” with Val Nichushkin and Jayson Megna. He was keeping possession alive in the offensive zone and power play plus his instincts to shoot and use that silky smooth shot of his were often at favorable times. Justin Barron picked up an assist on Byram’s goal and was generally solid in the context. A few coverage mistakes and puck handling issues plagued him but it was a good showing for his first game on NHL ice. Shane Bowers didn’t get the greatest opportunity centering Nick Henry and Cal Burke on the third line but played his responsible type of two-way game which led the team in Corsi For with 66.7% and ended up screening the goaltender on Byram’s goal,
Bowen Byram was perhaps the marquee name in the lineup for the Avalanche and he did not disappoint. His game steadily improved through the evening as he made an impact through his aggressive nature and smart play. Picking up a goal and assist, leading the team in time on ice by far at 24:38 with a look on both special teams units, contributing four shots on goal, two hits and a blocked shot while maintaining a 51.85% Corsi For were all in a day’s work for Byram who showed that he’s ready for prime time and only going to get better.
The first of three exhibition games home at Ball Arena at 7pm MT on Thursday, September 30th against the Minnesota Wild.