The start of a new season is always hopeful, exciting, and filled with a touch of fear. It’s going to be a long and winding road before the Colorado Avalanche can answer questions about their playoff engagement, so they’ll have to go through an 82-game season and take care of business game after game for now. Enter the Chicago Blackhawks, a familiar division enemy who hasn’t been seen in a while but would not be an easy team to defeat with a few tweaks to their roster. But a quick start with three quick goals in the first third and a special performance by Bowen Byram were enough for the Avalanche to win 4-2 and the first two points in the overall standings.
Colorado jumped out of the gate with some energy and quickly gave the home team some momentum. Both teams were a bit sloppy with the puck, but the Avalanche got the better look and quickly took the lead. Thanks to reader Avanucks for correctly predicting that it would be Jack Johnson to light the lamp for the first avalanche goal of the season. Johnson received a great pass from JT Compher in the neutral zone and then went all alone to the new Blackhawks goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury and scored a goal with an ingenious backhand shot at 4:26.
A little more than a minute later, Gabe Landeskog got involved and scored one of his patented top defensive goals to double the lead. The game started with a point shot from Erik Johnson, which was deflected first off Nazem Kadri before getting through to the Landeskog.
Then at 9:34 a.m. the real fireworks began when Bowen Byram scored his first career NHL goal. It was a characteristic look for the way he jumped off the bench on a move when Landeskog had possession downstairs and hit Byram upstairs, who then carried the puck into the offensive zone and sniped Fleury in the top corner.
When the score was 3-0, the Avalanche started rolling, but unfortunately gave back to Chicago on penalties at 16:47 when Dominik Kubalik thwarted coverage and shot past Avalanche goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper. The Avalanche ended the period with a 3-1 lead on the game result and a sovereign 18-8 lead in the shots.
The second period was much closer for both teams and each was looking for momentum in their direction. A large part of this framework was also played exclusively in special teams, as the two clubs exchanged power plays, 4v4 and even a 4v3 situation. Both penalty shoot-outs held and the result stayed until Nazem Kadri added a goal to his earlier assist. For his first hit of the season. Byram also got his second point of the evening when he jumped into the game and carried the puck to the net front and Kadri cleaned the loose puck and tucked it under Fleury at 4:12 p.m.
Kadri’s goal was the dagger for the avalanche when Chicago got one back from Connor Murphy in the third period, but it was too little too late, especially since it fell into place at 15:31. The result also made Byram’s goal the game winner, which was a nice bonus for him. There was a little late controversy when Gabe Landeskog gave Kirby Dach a tough but uncomfortable hit that seemed okay with hindsight but got Landeskog out of the final four minutes of the game.
The team as a whole had a very successful appearance, but the story of the evening was Bowen Byram, who in addition to the two points and the first NHL record also earned the first star of the game. His pairing with Erik Johnson took control of the game when they were on the ice together with 80% Corsi For and 87% expected goals. Byram flew all night, looking confident and much more aggressive than last season. It was the first time Byram played against the Blackhawks who overtook him in the draft, which is more fun in the story. Kirby Dach was conspicuous for Chicago all night, so it’s no small matter for him, but with Byram in the league, they might not have had to attach their car to Seth Jones for the next decade. Byram just scratches the surface of his talent and ability to influence the game. This was exactly the start of the season he needed after waiting so long to get back into NHL action, but it is also an indication of how important it can be to the further development of the Avalanche.
It was a brave group performance with Nathan MacKinnon from the line-up and Devon Toews still not quite ready for the action. There were some horrors in the second period when Val Nichushkin appeared to ram his wrist into the board on a hit and Darren Helm absorbed a hard blow from Riley Stillman, but both returned to the game and were able to play in the third period. Still, there is something to see as the week progresses and hopefully the Avalake’s thin forward depth will not be tested any further as Jayson Megna is already needed in the lineup.
If there was a sore spot that evening, it was special teams. Officially, the Avalanche went zero to four in power play and gave up one to three in the penalty kill. It is understandable that it takes some time to dial in to these units, especially with new players involved in the penalty kill, but it was weak last season and the coverage doesn’t look sharp at all. MacKinnon’s return should help the power play, but it too needs to be fine-tuned as the season progresses.
Another home game against a league rival, this time the St. Louis Blues at 7pm MT on Saturday October 16.