The Colorado Eagles have started their season at a disappointing 0–3–1, but fans should not fret too much about the slow start. Despite the losses, Eagles Country has a lot to be optimistic about.
Colorado Eagles at Henderson Silver Knights, game 1
The Eagles kicked off their season in a high-scoring matchup against Henderson. This was one of those games where nobody could hold onto a lead for long. As soon as one team pulled ahead, the other would score and even things up. In fact, the AHL feed was down for the first five minutes of the game, and by the time it was fixed, the score was already 1–1.
In the end, match came down to goaltending.
The Eagles outshot the Knights all evening, but Henderson’s Logan Thompson, one of the hottest goalie prospects in the league, was tough to beat. Unfortunately, the same did not prove true of Colorado’s Justus Annunen, who allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced, and looked completely out of his depth through the first two periods. Still, goals by Callahan Burke, Kiefer Sherwood, Mikhail Maltsev, and Jacob MacDonald kept the Eagles in the game. And Maltsev’s amazing through-the-legs goal ended up being the story of the night.
— Kevin McGlue (@kmcglue) October 16, 2021
In overtime, Annunen made up for his earlier shortcomings by making some spectacular saves. The game went to a shootout, where the Eagles nonetheless suffered their first loss of the season.
Colorado Eagles at Henderson Silver Knights, game 2
Two days later, the Eagles once again faced the Knights, this time with Hunter Miska in the Colorado net. Unfortunately, that change was not enough. Although Miska had been fantastic for the Eagles many times in the past, this was not his best game.
Not all the blame lies with Miska though. The Eagles took four penalties in the second period alone and gave up goals on three of the subsequent Henderson power plays. At the end of the second period, the Eagles were on the wrong side of a 5-1 margin, with Burke scoring the lone Eagles goal.
The Eagles swapped goalies at second intermission, and Coach Greg Cronin must have given the team an epic scolding, because they came out hot in the third. They outshot the Knights 20–2 through the final period and narrowed the deficit to 5-3 with goals from Sherwood and Alex Newhook. Cronin pulled his goalie with nearly five minutes left on the clock, but the gamble did not work this time. The Knights scored an empty-net goal—only their third shot on goal of the period—at just over four minutes left to play.
San Jose Barracuda at Colorado Eagles, game 1
After 18 months of an empty, silent Budweiser Events Center, the Colorado Eagles finally got to play in front of their fans again, and it was clear the team was determined to provide a win against the Barracuda. Alex Beaucage put the Eagles up 1–0 early in the first period—a lead they would hold until early in the second, when San Jose scored back-to-back goals only 17 seconds apart. Dylan Sikura followed up a few minutes later with a short-handed goal. Dalton Smith and Justin Barron gave the Eagles a 4–3 lead by at second intermission. Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn’t hold that lead. San Jose tied the game less than two minutes into the final frame, and then scored again to take the lead with less than five minutes left in the game.
San Jose Barracuda at Colorado Eagles, game 2
As is often the case in the AHL, the same two teams faced each other again the very next evening. The Eagles went to intermission up 2–1, thanks to goals from Sherwood and Burke, but that was the end of the scoring for Colorado, who ended up losing 4-2.
— Colorado Eagles (@ColoradoEagles) October 24, 2021
So what exactly is happening here?
I think there are several key takeaways from these four games.
First, the Eagles are consistently outshooting their opponents.
They have dominated several periods of play. So why are they losing? Since joining the AHL, “shooting but not scoring” seems to have become a pattern for the Eagles. Sherwood and Burke are doing their part. Getting Jayson Megna back, after a recent call up with the Avalanche, will help. Part of the problem is simply that the Eagles have faced some very good goalies.
Obviously, given the small number of games, these stats do not mean a lot. Zachary Sawchenko is a rookie. Alexei Melnichuk played 17 games last year, and finished with a GAA of 3.47 and a .868 save percentage. Logan Thompson is arguably the best goalie in the league. He finished last season as the top goalie in the AHL with a GAA of 1.96 and a .943 save percentage.
And on the Eagles’ end of the ice?
I would be lying if I said I was not concerned about Justus Annunen’s goaltending. He makes some spectacular saves, but he also lets in too many soft goals. He is good in one-on-one situations like breakaways and shootout goals, but he flounders when things get messy in front of the crease. A lot of this can be chalked up to adjustment time. He has only played four games in America. He is used to the bigger, European ice, and hopefully his play will improve as he adjusts to the rink size, and to the style and pace of play in the AHL.
Regardless, blame cannot be placed solely on goalies. The Eagles absolutely must fix their penalty kill. They are currently ranked third in the league on the power play, but dead last in the league on the kill, having given up 6 power play goals in 16 attempts. That number needs to improve drastically if the Eagles hope to be contenders this season.
Finally, what we have learned from these four games is that this team works hard. Not even one of these games can be chalked up to laziness, or failure to show up, or even being outworked. This team battles until the end. Unfortunately, it has not been enough. But watching them, it is hard not to be optimistic. Kiefer Sherwood and Callahan Burke currently lead the team in scoring.
The team has some great players. They just need to learn how to put the pieces together. They need better netminding, and they need to stop giving up power play goals.
The Eagles go on a three-game road trip in California, where they will face the Bakersfield Condors, San Jose Barracuda (again), and the Stockton Heat, before coming home to face the Texas Stars in back-to-back games on November 2 and 3.