October 8, 2015. Game 1, Pepsi Center, Denver, CO.
After 40 minutes of hockey tonight in downtown Denver, it looked as though the Colorado Avalanche were well on their way to an impressive opening night victory over their main antagonist of late, the Minnesota Wild. A victory that would have set the tone for the 20th anniversary season of Avalanche hockey, turned into an ugly loss that may set an adverse tone for what is to come.
As was expected, the Pepsi Center was raucous early on, with the festivities and new one-ice projection system stealing the show during pregame. Perhaps unexpectedly, given their lack of scoring during the preseason, the Avalanche stormed out to a 3-0 lead after one period of play. Jarome Iginla and Erik Johnson scored to capitalize on both Avalanche power plays of the frame, and Gabriel Landeskog banged home a ricochet off the end-boards from a Francois Beauchemin shot in the waning minutes of the period to extend the lead.
The second stanza settled into a much more even affair. The hero of the night for the Wild, Zach Parise, got the visitors on the board, but was quickly answered by a John Mitchell goal resulting from a grinding in-your-face shift from the Avs' fourth line.
The Avalanche slogan for this season is "The Story Continues", but the Avalanche revisited a chapter we have come to see too often in recent years, and sat back on their lead and lost their composure down the stretch. Zach Parise scored a pair of goals in the third period to complete his hat-trick, including the game-winning power play goal. Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek also scored in the period, and a stunned home crowd saw the Avs grab defeat from the jaws of victory, in what was one of the more monumental collapses in my recent memory bank.
Parise was easily the best player on the ice tonight, and came up huge when his team needed him the most. An early statement from the American forward, who the Wild will count on heavily to produce offense this season, if they wish to contend for a Central Division title.
2. Mikael Granlund, MIN, C: 2A, +3 rating, 21:28 ice-time
Granlund was the most relied upon center for Mike Yeo's hockey club tonight, and he held his own against the Avalanche's top trio of centerman. Matt Duchene and Carl Soderberg both had rough nights for the Avs, and the work of Granlund when he was matched up against those two certainly contributed to those struggles.
The Avalanche got everything they were hoping for when they signed Beauchemin to a 3-year $13.5M contract this offseason, and more. Beauchemin set a physical tone, made strong plays with the puck, was the vocal leader and general of the defense, and chipped in 3 assists on the night. The Avalanche will be wise to follow his veteran lead if they wish to better protect leads in the future.
PLAY OF THE GAME:
The Avalanche power play connected on their first opportunity of the evening, thanks to a sweet dish from Nathan MacKinnon to set up a vintage Jarome Iginla goal. On a night with an unsatisfying result for the Avalanche, this was a satisfying play the power play unit can take some confidence from.
With the Avalanche ahead 4-1 with about 15 minutes left to play, Gabriel Landeskog crushed Zach Parise with a hit in the defensive zone. The puck went to the point, and Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie wandered out to defend the point man. Landeskog and the rest of the Avalanche lost track of Parise, and the puck found its way to him on the doorstep for his second goal of the evening. All around poor defensive coverage from a team protecting a lead, especially from Barrie, who didn't seem to play with the confidence we've come to expect from him tonight.
The play got Minnesota back in the game on the scoreboard. The hit seemed to ignite Parise and the rest of his Wild compadres. The momentum compounded quickly, with an apparent blown icing call allowing Niederreiter to cut the lead to one two minutes later.
BY THE NUMBERS:
The Avalanche fall to 24-8-4 in home openers all-time, and are now 12-5-3 in home openers since moving to Denver. The Wild creep ahead of the Avalanche in all-time opening night point percentage in the franchise's histories: Wild are 0.667 (9-4-2) and the Avs are 0.625 (19-10-7). The teams entered this contest tied for the top point percentage in NHL history on opening night.
The Avalanche vs. Wild shot attempts chart at 5-on-5 is shown below, courtesy of War on Ice. While the Avalanche seemed to dominate momentum in the first period, the Wild still threw a good amount of rubber at the Avalanche net. A 29-12 advantage in blocked shots for the Avalanche kept the scoring chances fairly even throughout, but overall, the Avs still came up behind in the possession numbers tonight.
This one has to hurt, eh Avalanche fans? You don't see cliff drops like this in win probability too often in NHL games, and we can thank Rinkstats.com for this painful graphic from the Avalanche perspective.
QUOTE OF THE GAME:
Tonight's quote of the game came from a visibly strained Patrick Roy in his post game presser.
[The Wild] scored that second goal and the momentum shifted, and we just couldn't stop it... They certainly deserve credit for what they did in the last 15 minutes, but I thought we played well until then.
For the Avalanche's sake, this game can't have a lasting impact. It's one game... forget about it and move on needs to be the mantra in the locker room. The Avalanche continue to be stumped by the Wild, after struggling to a 1-4-0 record against Minnesota last season. On a positive note, the Avalanche scored 4 goals against the Wild over their 5 games last season, and equaled that total tonight.
The Dallas Stars come to Pepsi Center Saturday night, October 10th, for another Central Division tilt. Puck drops at 7:00 pm MT, and the game will be available for your viewing pleasure on Altitude.