Back on the road for another back-to-back the Colorado Avalanche found themselves with a pair of challenging games in Southern California. First up the Anaheim Ducks who are enjoying a strong season but have slumped lately. This game unfolded like two playoff teams battling for position which saw the Avalanche emerge the 2-0 victor on the back of a 34 save shutout from Pavel Francouz.
The first period was a slow moving 20 minutes punctuated only by another Kurtis MacDermid vs Nicolas Deslauriers staged fight which gave the Ducks momentum. Pavel Francouz was up to the task by killing two power plays and all 11 Anaheim shots in the period. Mikko Rantanen had two good scoring chances driving the net but no glory for the visitors.
In the second frame the game felt much like the first, a disjointed ping ponging of the puck with none landing in the back of the net. After the Avalanche failed to convert on their second power play they did pick up the urgency and pace which eventually led to the first score of the game. Samuel Girard made a move to the center of the ice and fired the puck past John Gibson with just 91 seconds left in the period.
After a mostly sleepy first couple of periods the final 20 minutes held a palpable sense of drama as both teams ramped up their intensity and they understood this was unfolding as a tight game to the finish. Physicality and tighter checking appeared and every shot on goal felt like a scoring chance. In the end the Avalanche prevailed once Nazem Kadri sealed the victory with an empty net goal with just over a minute to go in a 2-0 Avalanche final win.
Francouz was a much-deserved first star of the game going save-for-save with John Gibson and stopping 34 shots for his second career NHL shutout. Francouz must really like the Honda Center as that was the venue for his first shutout on February 21, 2020 which was a 24 save blanking of the Anaheim Ducks as well. Francouz was calm and composed in net and did not have to make any miracle stops but turned away several high quality scoring chances. Francouz was also a factor in the penalty kill looking improved which was a perfect 4-for-4 on this evening. A healthy competition with fellow netminder Darcy Kuemper would benefit the team as Francouz is just as capable of leading this team in net.
The bench was shortened in this game with many of the key players picking up a lot of time on ice. Still, it was the secondary scorers who came through in this one with Nathan MacKinnon held without a shot on goal. Girard scored the team’s 38th goal from the back end and Kadri picked up his 50th and 51st point to continue leading the team in scoring.
This season is progressing along just as successfully as last year’s regular season but the Avalanche are hopefully picking up lessons along the way that will benefit in the playoffs. The come from behind wins are a crucial tool to have in the arsenal as well as the belief that comes with the experience. Now closing out a tough low scoring game is another good habit to practice and something that will come in handy when games really matter.
Night two in Southern California meeting the LA Kings tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. MT televised on ESPN.
Also, the NHL finally released the revised schedule. No other dates were impacted for the Avalanche, just the slotting of seven postponed games from December.