The NHL announced that some preseason games would finish with a 3-on-3 overtime to acclimate players and coaches to the new overtime format. This was one of those games, and coincidentally, regulation finished with the score at 4-4. If this overtime period is any indication, the new OT format will be dazzling for fans and dangerous for heart rates.
This was a hard-hitting, fast-paced preseason game. The Ducks are a notably physical team and the Avalanche's new acquisitions, prospects, and PTO players matched them blow for blow.
Less than thirty seconds into the game, new Duck Jiri Sekac scored on Semyon Varlamov, but the Avs roared right back thanks to prospect Connor Bleackley. Bleackley scored at 2:20 to put his team right back in it. The first buzzer sounded at 1-1.
The Martinsen-Hishon-Rantanen line was flying all night and this was no more apparent than at the six minute mark in Period 2. Every player on the line got a point on Rantanen's goal, a sparkling wrister that made a good case for his tenth overall selection. Both teams got a couple great looks, but it wasn't until 12:42 that Anaheim scored the equalizer courtesy of Julius Nattinen.
The Avalanche offered goaltending prospect Roman Will the start for Period 3. The Ducks took advantage of this, putting up two early goals off shots from Jiri Sekac and Chris Wagner. Sekac was in the thick of things for Anaheim all night, pointing to a bright future with his new club. In just a few minutes the Avs went from tie game to down 4-2.
Six minutes into Period 3, Gabriel Landeskog took a cross-checking penalty. Things were starting to look grim. But Alex Tanguay generated a turnover on the penalty kill and got the puck to former Columbus Blue Jacket Jack Skille, who slipped a wrap-around past John Gibson for a short-handed goal.
At 10:52, the Avalanche got a chance on the power play that resulted in a fluky deflected power play goal that banked in off Nick Holden's chest. Suddenly, the Ducks' 4-2 lead was gone.
The teams couldn't get it finished in regulation, so the public got a taste of the NHL's new 3-on-3 overtime format and boy was it a wild one. Fast, puck-slinging end to end hockey was the name of the game. Roman Will made a massive save on an odd-man rush, then on the next play, the Avs came flying back and Alex Tanguay pocketed the game-winner.
Preseason Game 1
Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado
1. Alex Tanguay, COL (GWG, assist)
2. Jiri Sekac, ANA (2 goals)
3. Jack Skille—COL (goal, assist)
Play of the Game:
Jack Skille's short-handed goal may not earn him a spot on the Avalanche's deep roster, but it certainly brings him one step closer to an NHL contract.
With Jiri Sekac scoring less than thirty seconds into the game, the Avalanche could have lost momentum and spent the whole game chasing Anaheim. However, Connor Bleackley put in a spectacular effort to put his team back into the game along with linemate Jack Skille and new defender Nikita Zadorov.
Bleackley's goal at 2:20 in Period 1 was the game's turning point. The 1-all tie allowed the Avalanche to regroup and put on a strong preseason showing without playing catch-up.
By the Numbers:
Hits may seem like an odd statistic to focus on, but nobody at Pepsi Center could deny the bodies were flying. One of the most notable aspects of Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic's tenure has been how they've gravitated toward larger players and forwards who aren't afraid to play the body. This is evident in both their free agent signings and their drafting strategy.
It's far too early to tell in the preseason, but for the record, the Avs had 32 hits tonight, 19 of which are attributed to Nick Holden, Nikita Zadorov, Mat Clark, and Andreas Martinsen.
Is a rougher, hard-hitting style the direction we'll see the team take in the regular season?
Quote of the Game:
Our quote of the game comes from a player who didn't take the ice tonight. The dominant story by far for Colorado is Erik Johnson's shiny new contract. Johnson was available to media at the P1 break and had the following to say when asked if he'd considered returning to play in Minnesota:
"[laughter] No. I lived that dream playing for the Gophers. I enjoyed growing up there and being from there but there was never really a thought that I was going to leave. I mean, sure, as a free agent you can get more money but I was happy here. I love Denver, I love the organization and I had no interest in going anywhere else."