The Colorado Avalanche is 1-1-1 at home after three preseason matches, and many skaters on the team said they feel like preparation for opening night on Oct. 8 is well underway.
“I think tonight I took another step forward,” center Matt Duchene said following Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the visiting Los Angeles Kings. “Obviously, there’s plays and little things that I can do better. Just little things; going to get a shot off and rushing it a bit and having it bounce or not quite getting it to where you want it to go. Things like that come a little slower, but it’s just sticking with it and, I think, just keeping [an] even keel. Not getting too high about the good stuff and not getting too low about the stuff that’s still yet to come.”
While Sunday’s contest didn’t go the way Colorado had hoped, the truth is that each game is a tune up for the regular season and there’s still three left. Only true games, against outside opponents, can prepare a player for the coming campaign.
“It’s only my third kind of real game. Burgundy/White is kind of everybody everywhere because there’s no system in place. It’s a tough one to play in sometimes,” Duchene said. “In the last two, obviously last game we played well but we weren’t hungry enough around the net. Tonight, I thought we were really hungry all night, everywhere.
“That’s a full lineup for them. I’m really proud of the guys, how we competed. Obviously, we had a chance to win it there in the shootout and in overtime. It would have been a much better feeling had we done that, but [there are] a lot of positives, I think.”
Down 1-0 after a period of play, the Avalanche struck back, scoring the equalizer on a sneaky shot from the slot by rear guard Tyson Barrie. Barrie dropped down from the point, received a pass from Blake Comeau—who was drawing Kings defenders his direction—and fired it behind goalie Jonathan Quick for the tie.
“It was a great play by Blake,” Barrie said of the tally. “He just came around the net and I was yelling for it in the slot and he found me, good pass. I had lots to shoot at, but I think it might have bounced off somebody.”
Barrie is another Avalanche player who said he feels like the preseason has taken him to where he wants to be when the Minnesota Wild comes to Denver.
“Personally, I think tonight was the first game where I kind of felt maybe back to season shape,” the 24-year-old defenseman said. “I’ll be ready for Game 1. I think a lot of guys are starting to feel that. The more we play, I think the more guys will be ready.”
While those with a roster position securely in their grasp are using the ice time to hone minute details before the season kicks off, there are a handful of younger players looking to prove where they fit in the Avalanche depth chart.
That’s one reason why head coach Patrick Roy said he has divided the roster the way he has, mixing youth and experience night after night.
“It could be tempting to be at home and wanting to play the vets, but at the same time it’s early in the camp,” he said. “You have to give a chance to a lot of guys, and that’s what we’ve been doing: [Mikko] Rantanen, [Mikhail] Grigorenko, [Nikita] Zadorov. We try to have everybody be involved in play and I thought that our guys have done a good job.
“I was happy with the way we played tonight. I know we got outshot, but I think it was a good game for our young guys.”
A FAMILIAR FACE
Avalanche fans were treated to a familiar face on Sunday night as former netminder Peter Budaj returned to the crease at Pepsi Center, albeit in a Kings sweater. Still wearing the same No. 31 that he did with Colorado—Calvin Pickard uses the digits now—the 33-year-old Slovakian keeper started the third period, taking over a tie game from Jonathon Quick.
Playing a total of 25:00 minutes—through the third period, a wild 3-on-3 (and sometimes 4-on-4 or even 4-on-3) overtime frame and the shootout—Budaj managed to come out with the win, even after an injury scare during the skills competition at the end.
Budaj spent six seasons with the Avs, playing 242 of his 296 contests with the club. He owns a 2.76 goal-against average and .903 save percentage over his NHL career. He is on a professional tryout with L.A.
PTO forward Jack Skille, playing to earn himself a contract with the Avs, left Sunday’s contest with an ankle injury after colliding with the boards in the first period. The 28-year-old veteran had one shot on goal and one blocked shot in 5:23 of ice time before exiting the contest.
Avs forward Jesse Winchester, who missed the entire 2014-15 season due to post-concussion symptoms, is still sidelined with the same issues. Winchester played in a scrimmage during Avalanche Training Camp at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colorado, but hasn’t been on the ice with the team since.
“The symptoms of [his] concussion are back,” said Roy, offering an update on the 31-year-old center after Sunday’s game. “Obviously, he’s not ready to play right now.”