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After over four months away from the game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you had to know the players were eager to get into a game situation after a few days of practice.
On Thursday, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar and his staff gave all the players that opportunity, separating the 30 players between two teams and letting them go at it in a fast-paced, intense scrimmage that lasted about 45 minutes. Here is how the two teams were separated:
Landeskog – Kadri – Nichushkin
Nieto – PEB – Calvert
Dries – Jost – LOC
Girard – EJ
Zadorov – Cole
Byram – Lindholm
— Evan Rawal (@evanrawal) July 16, 2020
Burakovsky – MacKinnon – Rantanen
Namestnikov – Compher – Donskoi
Bowers – Kamenev – Tynan
Graves – Makar
Connauton – Barberio
MacDonald – Timmins
— Evan Rawal (@evanrawal) July 16, 2020
In the end, Team White came out on top by a score of 3-2, although there were plenty of chances at both ends. Here are some observations from the scrimmage itself:
- Jacob MacDonald, who was acquired last summer and signed a contract extension after the AHL season was cancelled, made a good impression and had to show off his versatility. His point shot early in the scrimmage appeared to have been tipped by Shane Bowers behind Pavel Francouz, and just about 30 seconds later, he hit Nathan MacKinnon with a stretch pass to give the Burgandy team a two-goal lead. After Bowers had to leave after taking a stick up high, MacDonald played the rest of the game at forward, something he did quite a bit for the Eagles this year. That versatility may give him a better chance at making it to Edmonton.
- MacKinnon picked up a goal, and both Mikko Rantanen and Andre Burakovsky hit the post, so the new top line was showing off their skill much of practice, but the concern with them (if they stick together) will be in the defensive end. Burakovsky got beat pretty badly in the defensive zone by Ian Cole, who put the puck between his legs and then went in and beat Grubauer. There’s no shortage of skill on that line, but Landeskog was always the defensive conscious with Rantanen and MacKinnon, so there may be some adjustments to be made.
- Speaking of Landeskog, he and Nichushkin were puck hounds on Kadri’s wing in the scrimmage and did a lot of dirty work helping the White team escape the defensive zone. I don’t believe they picked up any goals, but they did have a lot of time in the offensive zone on the cycle.
- The third line is kind of a leftover mix of skilled guys who can do a little bit of everything, and they showed it today with some good moments. Both Namestnikov and Donskoi are very good at carrying the puck through the neutral zone, and Compher’s speed will help on the forecheck. That line is a real wild card for this team heading into the Covid Cup.
- I’ve long felt Matt Nieto had the edge over Tyson Jost for the final forward spot because of his penalty killing usage, but the reality is, Nieto works stylistically with Bellemare and Calvert and as a trio, they were quite dominant in terms of possession this year, controlling 57% of the shot attempts in their 136 minutes together. That possession was on display in the scrimmage, as they cycled the puck at will, creating chances off hard work along the boards.
- Bowen Byram looked more comfortable, particularly on the offensive side, in the scrimmage. He jumped into the play a good bit, including joining the rush just prior to Johnson scoring the game-winning goal. He did lose MacKinnon behind him for the breakaway goal, but it was a better showing for him today.
- If there were a few injuries to hit the Avs upfront in the playoffs, it would not surprise me if Logan O’Connor got the call before Vladislav Kamenev. O’Connor’s speed creates things on its own, and Kamenev has looked a little slow and soft the first week of camp.
- Jost found himself centering O’Connor and Dries, and at the moment, appears to be the odd man out upfront, but he had a good day overall. He picked up the primary assist on Johnson’s goal and moved well overall. This is a deep team, and I don’t think it would take much for him to find himself back into the top 12 forwards.
- I fully expect goaltending to struggle early in this playoff tournament, given the long break, and both goalies looked a little off today. Francouz only gave up two goals but got beat a few times before getting saved by the post. Grubauer was on the other end, so it was a little harder to see, but the first white goal was a poor angle shot that snuck through. Still some time to shake off the rust for both of them.
- After the scrimmage was over, Nikita Zadorov and Nathan MacKinnon exchanged some friendly, competitive words before heading to the locker rooms. They were on separate teams, with Zadorov’s white team coming out on top, but it’s not the first time they’ve verbally jousted this week.
- The Avs will take Friday off before hitting the ice again on Saturday.