After coming off a 3-2 victory in their exhibition matchup against the Minnesota Wild, the Avalanche shifted their focus to their first of three round-robin games against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
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The Avalanche would go on to take down the Blues in what was a tightly fought game right down to the last 0.1 second where the 1-1 deadlock was broken in the third period on a buzzer-beater goal by Nazem Kadri.
It is the second time in NHL playoff history that a go-ahead goal was scored in the last second of regulation time.
Game 1 Takeaways
Back to Full Strength
The biggest takeaway for the Avalanche in this game is the health of the team with all but one of their players returning from the injured reserve. The team has battled injuries all season long to many of their star players, but with the long layoff prior to the start of the postseason, most players were able to return ready to get back to their respective roles.
Coach Jared Bednar was able to ice the closest thing to a fully healthy lineup since the beginning of the season against the Blues. The lines were as follows:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Andre Burakovsky||Nathan MacKinnon||Mikko Rantanen|
|Gabriel Landeskog||Nazem Kadri||Valeri Nichushkin|
|Vladislav Namestnikov||J.T. Compher||Joonas Donskoi|
|Tyson Jost||Pierre-Edouard Bellemare||Matt Calvert|
Burakovsky slotted in on the top line in what is usually Landeskog’s spot who was moved to the second line to flank Kadri in an effort to get more balanced scoring lines.
Trade deadline acquisition Namestnikov appeared on the teams’ third line and also appeared on the second power-play unit.
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Ryan Graves||Cale Makar|
|Samuel Girard||Erik Johnson|
|Nikita Zadorov||Ian Cole|
There were no changes to the Avalanche blue line, and the top pairing of Cale Makar and Ryan Graves remained intact after a great season by both players. Veteran defensemen Erik Johnson and Ian Cole should also be well-rested and refreshed for a deep playoff run after the long layoff.
Although both goaltenders saw action in the teams’ exhibition game — with Grubauer allowing 2 goals on 20 shots and Francouz stopping all 14 shots he faced — Grubauer got the crease in the team’s opening round-robin game.
Francouz is more than capable of carrying the load, which he showed earlier this season when Grubauer went down with an injury. Bednar has made it clear that no determination has been made on which netminder will get the start when Round 1 begins.
“I thought both goalies played well, they may have been two of our top three players. So going into this, we should try and keep those guys going and playing in game situations as much as we possibly can. The luxury of playing a round-robin and not jumping into a series right away allows us to do that.”
Francouz will get a chance to win the job before a decision is made. Grubauer made a strong statement to be the guy, turning in a solid effort against the Blues stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced with the only goal against coming on a Blues power play.
Right from puck drop, the Avalanche were ready to play. Despite the long layoff, the team did not waste any time using their speed to create scoring chances. Although they were down 1-0 to the Blues after the first period, the ice was tilted in the Avs’ favor with a 16-4 shot advantage after the first period.
The competitive juices were present and the players did not look sluggish. They also did not shy away from the physical game against a hard-nosed Blues team finishing with a total of 40 hits in the game.
Areas to Improve
Although the speed and shot totals were present, the Avalanche’s offense was kept in check with only two goals in the victory. If it hadn’t been for a last-second, buzzer-beater goal, Mackinnon, Landeskog, and Kadri would have all been held without a point.
With another tough matchup against the defense-first Dallas Stars, the Avalanche will need their superstars to find the scoresheet more often for the team to continue their success.
Powerless Power Play
Considering the talent level on Colorado’s top power-play unit, it was disappointing to see them capitalize on only one of their five opportunities. Special teams, especially the power play, is an extremely important aspect in playoff hockey and with chances to score sometimes far and few between the importance of capitalizing on the man advantage is crucial.
With a power play ranked 19th in the NHL during the regular season that was constantly switching personnel due to injuries, the Avalanche will need to find consistency within the top unit and cash in more often when the opportunities arise.
It is important for teams to have depth going into the playoffs and the Avalanche have plenty of it, especially in their forward group. However, the depth players need to contribute when the top six forwards are quiet like they were in Game 1.
The third line, consisting of Compher, Donskoi, and Namestnikov is one that provides a scoring upside and needs to be able to support the top-six group when the offense is hard to come by. The Avalanche will need to get more scoring from their bottom-six forward group to take a load off their star players to have a better chance at a deep playoff run.
Overall, it was a great first effort by the team and with a few more games to go before Round 1 begins they have plenty of time to address the holes in their game. They will look to build off this win and continue their quest for home-ice advantage — which really is just the advantage of having last change in this playoff run, but an advantage nonetheless — when they meet their division-rival Stars in the next game. Francouz is expected to get the nod in net.