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Colorado Avalanche lose their final preseason game, but their top-guys and new additions remain a bright spot
The Colorado Avalanche wrapped their final preseason game on the road in Vegas tonight. They gave up four unanswered goals to fall 4-3 in the end, but it was not without several highs among the lows.
To start, Colorado did not hold back on bringing their big-guns.
Nathan MacKinnon skated on a top-line with Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen, and Ryan Johansen stayed alongside Val Nichushkin to continue building chemistry after their time together in the Dallas game.
Johansen played with Drouin and Nichushkin in that game.
“We did a lot of good things – some things to execute and clear up a little bit, so that’ll be the main focus point here this next week before we get going,” Johansen said.
Johansen alluded to continuing to play on a line with Nichushkin into the regular season, so working out the details now is important.
“I thought we were really close to doing a lot of good things, and we were just a smidge off, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and trying to take another step with him,” Johansen explained ahead of tonight’s game.
He also continued to sing Drouin’s praises. “I thought [Drouin] was solid again: his hockey IQ, and his playmaking abilities (are) super elite.”
Tonight, Johansen opened up the scoring on the powerplay with a tip-in off Cale Makar’s shot.
Drouin picked up two assists in the contest on the powerplay, feeding Makar to set up both goals from Johansen and MacKinnon respectively.
Drouin’s playmaking remained a bright spot, but it’s not without mentioning the strong play of Cale Makar in all situations.
He eased into the preseason after nursing a lower-body injury that he spent the summer rehabbing, and Makar looked no worse for wear. He played a team-high 24:59 minutes.
Jared Bednar mentioned the Dallas game lacked some of the puck-moving capabilities he expects from his defensemen and tonight’s backend contributed four assists coming from Sam Girard, Bo Byram, and Makar.
MacKinnon fired a one-timer from the left circle to put the Avs up 3-1 on the powerplay midway through the game, but that was the last of their scoring.
Colorado controlled possession at five-on-five, but allowing dangerous chances between the hash marks cost them in the end.
Three of Alexandar Georgiev’s goals against came in close to the netfront. One came off a failed clear and poor coverage, one off a tough shot off the faceoff, another from a well-placed tip, and the final after a juicy rebound. His performance hardly warranted much criticism and certainly not enough to pin the result on him.
Special teams looked good tonight. The Avs capitalized on two of their four powerplay chances – a powerplay without Mikko Rantanen – and their penalty unit successfully killed three-for-three.
Logan O’Connor said getting to practice their kill against “probably the best unit in the world” on a daily basis makes them more detail-oriented and smarter in the little facets like angles and stick-positioning.
To stay on with the positives, all the top-guys looked good. Val Nichushkin played 17:25 minutes, scored a goal, and generated four shots on net. His line with Tomas Tatar and Ryan Johansen had the best possession metrics.
Johansen talked about the benefits of the length of preseason as a new addition to this group.
“The more reps and games – just being on the ice with these guys is super beneficial for me and them to get to know how I play and for me to learn exactly how they play. (It helps to build) some chemistry so that we don’t have to wait a little while during the season to get it going,” he explained. “We can get off to a good start. It’s a positive thing that I think we’re all embracing with all the new guys and all the guys that have been here for a little while.”
The length of time helped him to get more time working with potential linemates like Nichushkin, but has also helped him to adjust to Colorado’s pace generally. “That was a focus point, as an individual, preparing and focusing to get my speed up to this team’s pace,” he said.
Johansen is really looking forward to the opportunity ahead of him.
“It’s super exciting, super motivating. It’s a huge opportunity for me in my 13th year to have a big impact on a great hockey club. [Looking at] the big goal at the end, we’re gonna enjoy the process. I’m going to have a lot of fun and enjoy getting close with these guys and becoming brothers.”
Fredrik Olofsson made another compelling case for his chance to play on Colorado’s fourth line on opening night. It wasn’t flashy, but he had a great showing at the faceoff dot winning seven of his ten draws and successfully defended on the penalty kill.
Finally, Ross Colton continued to demonstrate his fit. He was a Swiss Army knife on the penalty kill and powerplay, generated six shots (with four additional attempts blocked), and was a pest to opposition every shift. His utility will go a long way for Colorado this season, especially as he hammers out the details of his game.
As for the negatives, the biggest might be concern for Bowen Byram after a hit from Paul Cotter late into the third period sent him awkwardly into the boards. He appeared to hurt a bit but stayed out on the bench. Byram reportedly felt okay after the game, and the team will continue to monitor his status in the coming days.
Obviously losing their 3-1 lead late into the game isn’t a positive. They checked out a little in the third period, and the final result captured this.
When the effort was there for the majority of this game, they made the defending Stanley Cup champions look especially human.
Once the points start to count in the standings next week, the effort will need to be a bit more complete.
The Avs will enjoy two days off before they resume practice. Their next game will be the season-opener in LA on October 11th, and they have some decisions to make for their final roster before then.