For a team filled with young guys eager to show what they're made of, you would think slow starts would be one of the few things the Colorado Avalanche don't have to worry too much about. If anything, you would be more concerned about a team coming out a little too amped up and trying to do a little too much.
On this night, however, the youth-laden Avalanche only seemed interested in having the crowd do a pulse check on the home team after 12-plus minutes of shotless hockey in what was a preamble to a very low-event 2-1 loss against the visiting New Jersey Devils.
While the Avalanche offense didn't get going until the period's final two minutes, it wasn't as if they were hemorrhaging shots on the other end. The two teams played the first period to a scoreless draw combining for just 12 shots on goal and giving off the feel of a preseason game.
Overall, the pace struggled to pick up throughout and the two teams combined for just 44 shots on goal, quite the contrast from their first meeting of the season (a 4-1 Devils victory) when the teams combined for 80 shots on goal. What was the difference between the two games?
"They're a good team," forward J.T. Compher said. "They play fast and they close really well defensively. I thought that they were able to stymie some of our offense tonight. Overall, we can't come out and start games like that. It's got to be better from the start. Once we started playing, we took it to them a bit and we grinded them down but we can't have slow starts like that."
The slow start carried into the second period as both teams sleepwalked their way through the first half of the period, exchanging lazy penalties and ineffective power plays. Instead of a heavyweight fight, tonight's game was more two schoolyard kids afraid to get hit engaging in a glorified slap fight in front of a frustrated crowd, who was dying for something to cheer for.
The small smattering of Devils fans in the crowd finally had something to be excited about when defenseman Nikita Zadorov made a blind pass behind him right to Devils forward Jesper Bratt, who took advantage of Colorado's obvious communication breakdown and snapped the puck into the net before goaltender Semyon Varlamov was able to return to the net after initially playing the puck to Zadorov.
Colorado would finally take advantage of one of their power plays just a few minutes later when Compher took a rebound off a blocked Alexander Kerfoot shot and found a way to beat goaltender Cory Schneider, who continued his career-long domination of the Avalanche tonight. The goal gave Colorado power play scores in three consecutive games.
"It was just a rebound off the block," Compher explained. "[Kerfoot] was doing a good job getting pucks to the net and that's something we've been trying to focus on the power play. It came over to me and I was able to get a good one off."
The goal was Compher's fourth of the season and gave him points in four of his last seven games as he has begun to heat up a bit and help linemate Kerfoot take over some of the complementary scoring the Avalanche have needed beyond Nathan MacKinnon this season.
A slightly more lively third period saw more lazy Colorado penalties give the Devils one too many power play opportunities and big forward Brian Boyle outworked two Avs in front of the net to bang home a rebound and give New Jersey the lead just 6:11 into the game's final frame.
While the Avalanche pushed back and had several chances, Schneider denied them and gave Colorado their second home loss on this five-game homestand. They currently sit at 1-2 with games against the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres facing them next week.
Ultimately, the team continued to emphasize the slow start as the main failure of tonight's game and their reason for struggling to generate anything beyond the single goal tonight.
"We just have to focus on starts more," Compher said emphatically. "I think at home, for the most part, we've been pretty good. Our record speaks for itself at home but I think we've got to be a little more ready to go."
For Compher, his role continues to shift as he's gone from playing a defensive-heavy role at center to a winger next to Kerfoot and Tyson Jost and then with his promotion tonight to the wing next to MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. As his role continues to evolve at even strength, he has taken a shine to parking himself in front of the net on the power play and enjoys the physicality of the position.
"It's not bad," Compher said with a chuckle. "I like the middle. We've got guys with great vision on that unit and even Mikko down low. It makes it easier on me and I've just got to find the spots and hit it."
On this night, finding the spots and hitting them just wasn't in the cards for this young squad. As they look to rebound against the Stars, whom they've already beaten twice this season, look for a stronger start as one of the keys to the game.