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The Avalanche took to the practice ice today as they prepared for their third preseason game tonight against the Vegas Golden Knights. It was predominantly a special teams practice as the coaching staff continues to try to iron out that side of the game.
There was a consistent group of mostly NHL players on one side of the ice that one could expect on opening night. Gabriel Bourque, Matt Nieto, and Patrik Nemeth made up three-fourths of one of the penalty kill units and given their roles last year, it’s fair to think that’s a group that will spend some time together during the regular season.
Each unit had its moments but the Sam Girard-led power play unit definitely got the best of the day. Among the penalty killers on the other end of the ice defending against the Mark Alt-led power play unit was Dominic Toninato. The second-year player is fighting for a roster spot after a rookie season that saw him post just two assists in 37 games played. Coming into the preseason this year, he’s used what he learned last year to propel him through the summer.
“I think the biggest thing was learning how to be a pro,” Toninato said. “It’s such a grind of a schedule, grind of a year, coming from college you only play half the games you do here. I think that’s the biggest thing: how you treat your body, how you recover, how you do the extra little things to be ready every day.”
Part of being a pro is working your way through a schedule that is significantly more demanding than the college game, where teams only play about 40 games in a season. The NHL has double that and it was no surprise to see the guys (Toninato, Jost, Kerfoot) who made the jump from NCAA hockey to the NHL struggle late in the year as they packed on twice the games they were accustomed to playing.
“It’s definitely different,” Toninato said. “Here you’re basically playing every other day. In college, you’re only playing Friday and Saturday. It’s definitely nice playing more games.”
While Toninato scored just two points last season, there were many nights where he came out on the right end of the shot share statistics. In fact, Toninato’s Corsi For percentage was fifth among Avalanche forwards last year. Given some of the truly atrocious fourth liners Colorado has iced in recent years, Toninato’s low-scoring ways (just 14 goals were scored at even strength with Toninato on the ice last year – seven for, seven against) were something of a breath of fresh air. Was last year an accurate reflection of Toninato as a player?
” Yes and no,” he said. “I think some things showed that I feel I’m good at, especially in the defensive zone. I feel there’s more skill there, more points to be had there. Hopefully, that will come.”
As competition ramps up in the preseason and the team is expected to make a significant round of cuts in the next few days, Toninato knows time is running out for him to make an impression on the coaching staff. Even still, he isn’t about to suddenly try to reinvent the wheel to make the team.
“I’ve just got to take it a day at a time, give it my all, play my game,” Toninato explained. “I don’t want to switch anything up and be something I’m not. It’s just trying to work hard every day and show them what I’ve got.”
Going into tonight’s game, the Avalanche have lost both of their preseason games and been outscored 12-1. Is it a concern things have gone so poorly?
“You want to win every game, even if it is preseason, especially coming off the last game where we got spanked,” Toninato said. “We want to rebound and hopefully take it to them.”
The Avalanche will have an opportunity to “take it to them” tonight at 8 p.m. Mountain as they take on Vegas. Tonight’s full lineup is below.
Nieto – Soderberg – Bourque
Kerfoot – Compher – Kaut
Dries – Kamenev – O’Connor
Greer – Toninato – Kosmachuk
Nemeth – Girard
Graves – Alt
Boikov – Lindholm