It was the type of masterful performance that can erase all the inconsistencies that surrounded the team for the first handful of games this season. And it was led by the three players that have been here the longest.
The Avalanche defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at Ball Arena on Saturday, finishing the first month of the season with two consecutive wins and a 4-4 record.
“I mean 2-4 was tough, it would’ve been nice to get back to .500 against Vegas at
home,” superstar center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We didn’t do that so we had to get a big win in St. Louis and now another great effort against Minny here at home tonight. A lot of fun getting wins on home ice.”
Captain Gabriel Landeskog had two goals and four points, MacKinnon pitched in with two assists and defenseman Erik Johnson had the eventual game-winner — his first goal since before the COVID pause nearly two years ago — and added an assist.
More than just what was recorded on the scoresheet, all three showed the type of emotion the team seemed to lack at times.
MacKinnon brings the physicality
The Avalanche had a tough stretch in the middle part of the second period, allowing the Wild to generate most of their opportunities on consecutive power plays. They barely got out of the first one unscathed — thanks to a number of strong saves from goalie Darcy Kuemper — but surrendered a goal on the second chance with just over three minutes left in the frame.
Rather than enter the third period tied 1-1, Colorado quickly answered back, and it started with a clean, hard play from MacKinnon.
MacKinnon dumped the puck into the Wild zone, got around one defender before leveling Jonas Brodin behind the net. He picked up the loose puck and sent it to a trailing Johnson, who fired it home to make it 2-1.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, they check hard and they don’t give up a whole
lot, so we had to work for everything we got,” Landeskog said. “I think we did a good job of that.”
MacKinnon brings the fight
Rookie defenseman Bowen Byram was checked hard into the boards early in the third period by Minnesota’s Brandon Duhaime. And the Avs weren’t going to let him get away with it.
MacKinnon was closest to the hit and quickly dropped his gloves to challenge the forward. The two wrestled each other to the floor after exchanging a couple of punches. They both received roughing minors but Duhaime also was ejected and received a five-minute cross-checking major for the dangerous play.
The tussle riled up the fans and the Avs quickly made it 3-1 on the man advantage. Chalk that up as an assist for MacKinnon from the penalty box.
Johnson celebrates with joy
We don’t often see Johnson celebrate with such raw emotion after scoring a goal. But this goal was different.
Johnson played just four games all of last season before injuries derailed his season — and almost his career. There was uncertainly surrounding his playing days for most of the summer. But he worked to get back on the ice and was finally rewarded with a goal for the first time since March 6, 2020.
The pure elation was nearly two years in the making.
“I think you just see the emotion on his face,” MacKinnon said. “In years past when he scores he’s pretty calm, but everybody knows how hard EJ has worked to get back to where he is. Last summer we didn’t even know and he didn’t know if he would even play hockey ever again.”
Landeskog brings the offense
The captain was all business on Saturday. He scored the opening goal off a beautiful passing play with linemates Andre Burakovsky and MacKinnon and had a nice setup to Nazem Kadri on the power-play goal that made it 3-1.
Landeskog also assisted on the Johnson goal, scored the empty-netter and pitched in with four shots and two hits. That’s the type of game you want from your leader.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif