Coach Jared Bednar reunited his promising second line from the beginning of the season with freshly healthy Evan Rodrigues centering Val Nichushkin and Alex Newhook and bumped J.T. Compher up between Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen, forming the closest top six lineup to Opening Night he’s had in months.
And... it worked great. Let’s get into it!
Shots and the bulk of the play were evenly split in the first, with both teams creating a couple of dangerous chances that through luck and positioning the goaltenders were able to shut down.
Colorado started strong but didn’t generate much until nearly 5 minutes in when Newhook drove the near wall and fed Nichushkin in the slot for a low shot but Saros closed his five-hole just in time.
The teams traded mostly tame possessions through the middle of the period until Filip Forsberg fought through three guys at the blue line to feed Ryan Johansen in the high slot, where he ripped a wrister off the far post.
Dryden Hunt then tried to break out and was hooked in the neutral zone by Jordan Gross, giving Colorado’s struggling powerplay a chance to end its 0-17 streak with six minutes to go in the period.
Unfortunately, the streak extended to 0-18 despite generating dangerous chances. It started with a faceoff win and quickly generated a seam pass chance for Makar, but Saros kicked away his one-timer.
Cale got the puck back and fed Mikko for a one-timer that was blocked away, then got it again and fed JT but Saros got a shoulder on his one-timer. Lehkonen recovered the rebound back to JT who wired the puck toward Val at the far post, but he couldn’t quite handle the heat on the pass and missed an open net.
Then with only 15 seconds remaining in the period, Rantanen was called for slashing for swiping at Cole Smith’s booty off the faceoff, but Nashville was only able to get one Jordan Gross shot on the PP chance before the period ended.
Nichushkin’s near miss on the powerplay and the post-Johansen hit was definitely the most exciting plays of the period, but strong defense and forechecking from the Avs were pretty exciting to see as well as this more balanced lineup really seems to be rounding into form. Nice to see a less sleepy start than we saw against Buffalo too.
The penalty kill continued its strong work to start the period, as Cogliano and Makar both cleared pucks cleanly before Nashville could set up. Logan O’Connor shut down two consecutive zone entries before the Predators got set up for a Josi shot that Georgiev stopped cleanly.
Off that rebound, Lehkonen chipped it deep, corralled the puck, and killed time before creating a wraparound chance for himself that was the most dangerous play for either team during Nashville’s powerplay.
After a couple even strength shifts, a funky bounce nearly led to Makar's breakaway but Cogliano got called for tripping at the offensive blue line. Josi went in to hit him but missed and fell down, but Cogliano had his stick near Josi’s foot at the time. Bednar was very unhappy with the call.
This powerplay chance was slightly more dangerous for Nashville, but Georgiev made great saves on Mikhail Granlund and Nino Niederreiter to keep the score even. The Predators set back up but Colorado kept everything outside until Josi nearly tapped in a backdoor feed from Johansen as the penalty expired.
Colorado then drew a penalty after Foudy and Meyers forechecked hard and Meyers fed Newhook at the near dot for a shot narrowly shrugged off by Saros. Newhook gathered the puck back and tried to find a pass but was tied up by Yakov Trenin for a holding penalty.
The powerplay again looked dangerous, as Rantanen fed Nichushkin for a quick shot in the slot and JT tried to jam home the rebound but Saros fought him off. Rantanen then hit the post from the far dot, gathered it again behind the net after the puck bounced there when Lehkonen was crushed in the goal mouth, fed it back to Makar who delayed and then returned it to Rantanen for another shot that he buried top shelf over Saros’ glove. 1-0 Avs!
The Avs rode that goal’s momentum to ramp up their pressure, pulling away in shot differential and forcing errors from Nashville including a bad outlet pass that ended up on Meyers stick at the top of the near circle.
He tried to feed O’Connor at the far dot but Saros got across on the one-time snapshot. Meyers could have probably scored on a quick shot but looked shocked to get the puck at all and patiently found a pass instead.
Ryan Johansen followed up that error with one of his own, as he hooked Makar down attempting to round Georgiev’s net for an outlet pass.
With 6 minutes to go in the period, the Colorado powerplay wasn’t able to follow up Rantanen’s goal with another - they only generated a couple of Nichushkin stuff attempts that didn’t really challenge Saros.
After a couple minutes of missed passes and blocked shots back and forth, Nichushkin corralled a puck in the neutral zone and tapped it to Rodrigues who picked it up, entered the zone, and wound up for a wrister but instead fed across to Newhook who beat Saros up top over the blocker! 2-0 Avs!
The Avs really took this period to the Preds and earned their power play opportunities with strong possession work. The Predators went nearly ten minutes without a shot in the middle of the period.
Facing a two-goal deficit, Nashville’s top weapons tried to put the team on their back.
On the first shift of the period, Forsberg created a mini breakaway for himself by poaching a breakout pass at the far wall but Makar reached in to negate his shot, then poked a puck off Toews breaking out but Makar again got to him before it became dangerous. Josi then fed Forsberg backdoor but Georgiev fought off his bad-angle shot attempt.
Then Matt Duchene drove the far wall and tried a wraparound that Georgiev stopped but the rebound went right back to him around Foudy and Duchene buried it top shelf over Georgiev’s blocker. Foudy needed to find that rebound or tie up Dutch but did neither. 2-1 Avalanche.
But that was pretty much it for Nashville. Colorado put the pressure back on them with strong possession and some nifty offensive chances. Brad Hunt fed Rantanen in the high slot for a shot that snuck through Saros’ glove and narrowly missed wide far post.
Meyers drove the near wall and centered for O’Connor but Ekholm lifted his stick, then Girard sprung Rodrigues for a near breakaway but with Jordan Gross closing in from behind he shot it right into Saros’ body.
Rodrigues then got another mini breakaway off a Girard clear by pirouetting around Josi but Saros held his ground and slapped his backhander away with his catching glove. Compher then snagged an errant pass in the slot in front of Saros and fed Rantanen for a one-timer.
The Avs defensive shell forced the Predators to make mistake after mistake and regroup over and over again in their defensive zone, and when they finally got possession in the offensive zone and pulled Saros Georgiev flashed the glove to rob Forsberg on a cross-ice feed from Josi with tons of traffic in front with 37 seconds left.
Then off the next draw, Makar hit the empty net from his defensive zone to put the game on ice - 3-1 Avs!
This was a really strong defensive period despite giving up a goal to Matt Duchene capped this game for Colorado, and Cale Makar’s empty netter was the icing on the cake to snuff out Nashville’s comeback hopes. The Predators came out flying on the back of excellent pressure from Fillip Forsberg, but after their goal, the Avs came back to life and made every inch of ice a battle for the rest of the game.
Really nice to see the opening night top six nearly intact, though missing MacKinnon obviously hurts. Compher played a great game on the top line, and the second line picked up where it left off when Nichushkin went down early in the season topped off by the beautiful fake and feed from Rodrigues on Newhook’s goal.
Ben Meyers did his best J.T. impression on the third line and looked like a perfect fit. In callup kids’ battle to stay in the NHL when this roster gets healthy, tonight’s game was definitely a mark in the win column for Meyers.
Jean-Luc Foudy created some chances but failed to clear the defensive zone a couple of times and reacted far too slowly to the rebound that led to Duchene’s goal. His defensive shortcomings were exposed tonight, and fourth-line minutes don’t really serve his development too well. He’s probably the next guy getting sent down when someone gets healthy despite consistently flashing offensive potential.
I’d play Englund over MacDermid when he gets healthy. Brad Hunt too. Both were solid yet again tonight. MacDermid might slot in at forward, but I can’t see him outplaying those guys on defense.
Finally, Mikko Rantanen is that man. Gotta love him.
The Avs continue the home stretch against the New York Islanders Monday night. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.