Fresh off a series sweep of the San Jose Sharks last week, the Colorado Avalanche looked to get off to a good start in St. Paul, Minnesota, as they face the Minnesota Wild in four straight contests. Philipp Grubauer is off to a hot start in net for Colorado, the second line is starting to heat up, Bowen Byram looks like he is here to stay and the Avalanche have the best penalty kill in the league.
Let’s take a look at how the Avs did this weekend against Minnesota.
With Matt Calvert already out indefinitely due to concussion issues, the fourth line was already on the mend, as recently acquired Kiefer Sherwood replaced Calvert in the lineup. But, that line took another hit this week when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare went down with an apparent knee injury in the series against the Anaheim Ducks. Following Thursday’s game, Colorado Head Coach Jared Bednar said Bellemare will “miss some time,” leaving fans with the hope that his injury is not season-ending. On Saturday, the University of Denver Pioneer alum Logan O’Connor got the call up and did not waste any time getting involved. In just his first shift, O’Connor scored on a wrist shot from the left circle that ricocheted in off the goaltenders stick. After the game when asked about scoring on his first shift, O’Connor said, “Maybe throughout my career, but it definitely doesn’t happen often.”
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) January 31, 2021
The Wild would answer O’Connor’s goal with a great shot from Matt Dumba off Grubauer’s mask, but the Avalanche would regain the lead in the final seconds of the first period with a power play goal from their second line. Andre Burakovsky sent the puck down low to Brandon Saad from the half wall, who then centered the puck to Joonas Donaski in front of the net for a tap-in goal past Kirill Kaprizov. After being called out by Bednar earlier in the week, who demanded more from the second line, Saad responded with six points in his last three games.
In the second period, Mikko Rantanen continued his hot start, scoring his seventh goal of the season on a nice wrist shot, as he carved his way through the slot of Wild defenders. With that goal, Rantanen became the first player in franchise history to score a goal in each of the team’s first five road games. Rantanen is currently tied for second in the NHL for goals scored, only trailing Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, who has lit the lamp eight times in the young season.
Looks like Mikko Rantanen is feeling it tonight. pic.twitter.com/Pq7xqGFUL8
— NHL (@NHL) January 31, 2021
The Avs would pull away in the third period with goals from Saad and JT Compher, but the big stories from Saturday’s game were the injury to defenseman Erik Johnson and the steady play of Byram. Early in the contest, Johnson skated up the right boards to dump in the puck when he was hit hard by Wild forward Jordan Greenway. Johnson landed hard and gingerly made his way back to the bench, where he proceeded back to the locker room. It is unfortunate that Johnson is injured again after he worked hard to get healthy, as injuries kept him out of the playoffs last season.
Jordan Greenway hammers Erik Johnson pic.twitter.com/40wXNOtz8p
— CJ Fogler 6'7" IQ 269 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 31, 2021
Playing with just five defenseman, the Avalanche leaned heavily on their young talent, as Sam Girard, Cale Makar and Ryan Graves all played over 20 minutes each. But it was the play of Byram that turned heads. Byram held his own in his 19:26 of ice time after playing just a handful of NHL games. He was patient with the puck, made clean exit zone passes and most notably was not shy about playing the body. With recent support from leaders like Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon, it seems like Byram will stay up with the Avalanche this season and use up the first year of his entry-level contract. It is great that these young players are able to fill in the gaps and get some great experience at the NHL level, but you have to wonder why this group just cannot seem to shake the injury bug.
That’s not a rookie move, Bo Byram 🔥 pic.twitter.com/L1OgokFl7W
— Emily Wade (@Emily_Wade) January 31, 2021
The Avalanche and Wild played their second game just 24 hours later in St. Paul. Getting the start in net for Colorado was Minnesota native Hunter Miska. Jacob MacDonald also drew into the lineup, replacing Johnson. The pace to game two was similar to the previous night, with up and down action without a lot of stoppages. And within four minutes, the Avalanche struck first when MacKinnon found a streaking Donskoi in the slot, who put it past Cam Talbot for a 1–0 advantage. The Wild would even the score at 1–1 late in the first period following a Greenway rebound goal past Miska.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) February 1, 2021
Right off the bat in the second period, the Wild attacked the Avs, forcing a turnover from Graves. The puck remained in the Avs’ zone until Wild captain Jared Spurgeon found Victor Rask open on the left circle for the goal. Makar and the Avs answered right back two minutes later, tying the game at 2–2. Makar said at the intermission that he saw the Wild forwards had over-committed, so he took advantage of the space and the traffic in front of Talbot. The game went into the third period tied 2–2, but the success of the Avs’ penalty kill had been the story. They killed off another two power plays, backing up their first-place ranking in the NHL for penalty kill percentage.
— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2021
The Avalanche and Wild would continue to exchange blows in the third. Saad would give Colorado the lead, but the Wild would come back again with another goal by Rask. The game was destined for overtime, to which it went. But, with their first offensive possession, the Wild got the puck to Jonas Brodin in the high slot, who beat Miska for the game-winning goal. Although it was a disappointing loss, seven points in the last four games is pretty darn good, especially with a lot of players banged up. One of the most notable being MacKinnon, who did not return in the third period.
MacKinnon has lower body injury, will not return
— Lauren Jbara (@laurenjbara) February 1, 2021
These teams are not done with each other just yet. Both teams will travel back to Denver for another two games at Ball Arena on Tuesday and Thursday. The Avs are in another tough spot with so many players out with injuries, but hopefully Devon Toews can come back to help the defensive unit. Hopefully MacKinnon is okay as well, because that would be a colossal loss.