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The Colorado Avalanche returned to practice after beating the Minnesota Wild in a season-opening 4-1 on home ice. It was a partial group today has several players were off the ice for rest and the session itself was only about 30 minutes in length.
As such, it was a predictably slow practice session that focused on little details, especially on special teams. They were focusing on puck movement and stressing getting the puck into more aggressive shooting areas on the power play. The lackluster effort with the man-advantage against the Wild certainly played a role in today’s practice session.
Coming into the season, one of the biggest storylines for the Avalanche was the maturation of young defenseman Sam Girard. He was a revelation last year after being acquired from the Nashville Predators as part of the Matt Duchene windfall.
Following the signing of veteran defenseman Ian Cole in July, there were questions about how much ice time Girard would be given and what role he’d slide into. Head coach Jared Bednar answered those early on by pairing him next to Erik Johnson and repeatedly saying they were going to give him opportunities on the top pairing to see how he handled the matchups.
In last night’s victory over the Wild, Girard played 20:47 and led the defensemen in ice time in what was a very balanced group. It was the beginning of what should be a big year of development for Girard, who used last year to feel out the league and figure out his fit in it.
“Last year was a learning year,” Girard said. “Being out there with those veterans, both off-ice and on-ice, this year it’s about my confidence. When I’m on the ice, I think my confidence is way higher than last year. I’m going to play my game, play good defensively and bring some offense as well.”
As he came into this season, the former QMJHL scoring star said he was focused on bringing more offense to the table as he tried to recapture the brilliance on that side of the puck that defined his junior career.
“I need to bring more shots on the net this year,” Girard emphasized. “It’s what I did this summer. I worked a lot on my shot and when I get a shooting lane I need to let it go and make sure the puck hits the net.”
While Girard didn’t register any points last night, he did manage a shot on goal while picking up more than two minutes of power play time. More importantly, he took immediately to his new role of marking the opposing team’s top line. You can see from the chart below that while he was part of the group that allowed the only goal against last night, it was overall a positive outcome as they held their own just fine.
He blocked three shots in dangerous areas, took two hits to make plays in the offensive zone, and had three of his own shots blocked. There’s still work to do in generating his own offense but last night was nothing short of encouraging for Colorado’s top new pairing. Bednar was in agreement.
“He’s already a special player,” Bednar said, adding he feels Girard “has the potential to be a superstar.” Saturday’s matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers will see Colorado’s budding superstar Girard lined up across from Philadelphia’s own superstar-in-the-making, Ivan Provorov.
News and Notes
- Patrik Nemeth and Tyson Barrie were among the players not skating today and Bednar said after practice it was just the infamous maintenance day. Both players are expected to be fine for tomorrow’s tilt against the Flyers.
- Semyon Varlamov will get the start against the Flyers tomorrow and Philipp Grubauer will make his first official start for the Avalanche on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s an opportunity for a little redemption for Grubauer as he faces the team that ran him from the net in the postseason last year.
- Chatted briefly with an Avalanche player today about the Avs-Wild rivalry and if it was still real in their eyes. “Hell yeah. I love beating them” was the response. Well then.
- The effect of the Colorado Eagles being the AHL team is already being felt not only by the organization but by scouts from opposing teams. I chatted with multiple scouts last night who said they’d be heading up the road to watch the Eagles tonight and be back in Denver for tomorrow’s game against the Flyers. Denver-based scouts for other teams must be loving the easier travel schedule for catching both NHL and AHL squads.