The Avalanche practiced at Ball Arena for the first time Tuesday and the lineup has started to take shape ahead of Wednesday’s season opener against the St. Louis Blues.
Defenseman Erik Johnson, who has been unfit to play since on-ice sessions began Jan. 4, did not participate. Jared Bednar confirmed that Johnson will miss the home opener and be replaced by Conor Timmins.
“I believe he was in the building a little bit today,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Johnson. “But he’s still unfit to practice.”
Timmins, 22, has played just four NHL games, including two during the 2020 playoffs alongside his current partner Sam Girard before injuries kept him out of the lineup.
“Conor Timmins has looked fantastic,” Avs coach Jared said Saturday. “He showed up to camp in great condition. He looks bigger and stronger and more comfortable. He’s put some of his injury woes behind him and had a great summer of training.”
The Avalanche’s top defense pair consists of Cale Makar alongside newcomer Devon Toews. The two have played together throughout training camp. Toews, who ran the New York Islanders’ top power-play last season, will also be on the second power-play unit with Girard.
Like the rest of the NHL, the Avs have often used four forwards on each of its power-play units over the past few seasons.
“We feel like both of those guys are probably the best players to help us on that five-on-four,” Bednar said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they can accomplish as a unit. It’s also a unit for us that doesn’t see a lot of ice time. They generally get the last 30 seconds. So I don’t mind that unit having two defensemen.”
Andre Burakovsky will skate with All-Stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the top line to begin the season. Forwards Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Brandon Saad make up Colorado’s second line.
“Playing with Nate, you got to be on top of your game every game,” Burakovsky said. “That’s something that everyone expects from me. You got to have fresh legs because he’s always going fast.”
Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will begin the year with Matt Calvert and Tyson Jost as the Avalanche’s fourth line. But with an accelerated schedule and the new taxi squad, Bellemare knows he will likely see a revolving door of wingers.
“I’m just going to make sure that when I come to the rink and it’s a new guy, I talk to him and make him as comfortable as possible to make sure I know how he wants to play,” Bellemare said. “The lines work well when you have a good connection off the ice.”
Bellemare, Calvert and Jost will be Colorado’s top-three penalty killers and Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, J.T. Compher and Saad will play a secondary role up front.
Lines from practice Tuesday:
Burakovsky – MacKinnon – Rantanen
Landeskog – Kadri – Saad
Donskoi – Compher – Nichushkin
Jost – Bellemare – Calvert
Toews – Makar
Girard – Timmins
Graves – Cole