Having not played competitive hockey for four and a half months, there was an expectation heading into the 2020 postseason that teams might be a little rusty.
The Colorado Avalanche now has a better idea on some things it needs to clean up in its game after facing an opposing team for the first time since March 11. The squad took on the Minnesota Wild in an exhibition outing on Wednesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, and despite some spotty play at times, earned a 3-2 win.
After arriving in the Western Conference hub city on Sunday, the Avs' first outing had some elements of traditional summer hockey and featured a significant amount of special-teams time as the clubs combined for 17 penalties and 36 penalty minutes.
"I think I speak for all of us, it's nice to get back out there and just move the puck around in a game-type scenario," said Colorado forward Nazem Kadri. "I think in that first period we definitely had a little bit of rust that we had to shake off, but as the game went on we played better and we will look to do that at the start of the next game."
Colorado went 1-for-5 with the man advantage and was down a man for 13:15 of the game and only allowed one goal on eight penalty-kill situations.
Video: Nazem Kadri & Joonas Donskoi postgame presser
"I mean at least we got a lot of practice for our special teams, you know PK, PP, and I think PK looked really good today," said Joonas Donskoi, a forward who played on both special-team units in the outing. "Obviously sometimes you hope in preseason games that you would get more 5-on-5 shifts to get that going, but it was what it was and at least we got some practice for our special teams."
Although the team only has the one scrimmage against another NHL team, head coach Jared Bednar learned some things in the outing that he will focus on with his team before the results of the games matter. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin this weekend, and the Avs will be battling the St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars for the top-four seeds in the Western Conference in a round-robin format.
"We are definitely going to have to ramp up the intensity and our checking. I didn't like the way we checked early in the game and then in turn we didn't get any extended offensive zone time," Bednar said postgame. "We were just, a little bit too much standing around, not engaged physically enough early in the game and they out-chanced us, they outshot us. As the game went on, we got a little bit more predictable with our puck movement, we started to play with a little bit more pace, put some more pressure on the puck up ice. We checked better coming back into our zone and in the D-zone and we started spending a little more time in the offensive zone and earning some power plays and some chances, so I thought our game improved.
"I thought the checking part of it and that intensity and engagement is something that I am sure most teams are struggling with after a long layoff… This game will help get some fresh video and talk about some things that we need to improve and get our guys engaged."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar on the exhibition win vs. Wild
13 AND SEVEN
Because the contest against Minnesota was the only scheduled exhibition contest before the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin, the Avalanche was allowed to dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen in the outing, two more skaters than usual.
Samuel Girard did not play in the game after also not participating in Tuesday's practice, but he did skate prior to the outing and is expected to be back on the ice tomorrow. Prospect blueliner Conor Timmins filled Girard's typical spot in the top three defensive pairings.
"I wanted to see Timmins in the game, wanted to see what he would do against a real opponent where the intensity is turned up a little bit," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We wanted to dress as many guys as we could to give them at least a little bit of game action, so we dressed 13 and seven tonight and tried to spread the ice time out a little bit."
Timmins, who played the first two games of the season with the Avalanche, was mostly paired with Nikita Zadorov in the matchup and played 9:46, including 36 seconds on the penalty kill. The young rear guard had one missed shot and a takeaway, and also took a high sticking penalty in the exhibition.
"He got caught there on the accidental high stick. It was actually one of the penalties that I didn't mind tonight, I think it was just wrong place, wrong time. He started reaching for a puck and his stick got elevated and clipped their guy on the face so that was a tough call," said Bednar. "But, besides that, I thought he played fine. I like his puck moving ability, we have talked about it all through training camp. Going against bigger, stronger, faster opponents is going to be something that he is going to have to get used to and keep working on, but [he's an] intelligent player. There is a simplicity to his puck movement, but it's really effective. He finds a way to execute when he is under pressure or when he has time. He is just making some good decisions out there with the puck, which really helps us at times.
SPLIT TIME IN NET
Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz each saw action in the Avalanche crease in the exhibition. Grubauer started the game and stopped 18 of 20 shot in 30:20 and Francouz denied all 14 shots he faced in 29:30 of play.
"I thought they were good. I think Grubi probably saw the more difficult shots of the night," said Bednar of his two netminders. "I think from a defensive standpoint, we didn't check very well in the first period. Whether that was a feeling out process or we just weren't on our toes, we did too much standing around the D-zone and they were finding some seams on us and getting some good quality looks, but he made some big saves for us in the first period to keep us in the game there. Frankie probably had a little bit lighter load, but I think both guys looked sharp, made the saves they needed to make and got us a victory here tonight. Pretty good performance by those guys I thought."
Bednar noted on Tuesday that both goaltenders will play during the round-robin games against the Blues, Stars and Golden Knights.