Colorado Avalanche Game 1 Post-Game: Blackhawks shaken by Johnsons, Bo Byram, and steady goaltending

The Colorado Avalanche, missing both their top star and coach, opened the season with a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, and let some of their other players have their time to shine

Austin Manak, aka Cottsigan, is one of my favourite Twitter follows.

Virtually all of his tweets include puns and wordplay, in the cleverest kind, done effortlessly as if it came second nature. If you’re an Avalanche fan, or at least a fan of light entertainment, and aren’t following him, you have some explaining to do.

Anyway, shortly after the beginning of the second period, he tweets this:

First, BoJack Horseman is a great show.

Second, this is clever. Very clever. It’s also true. How else can you describe the game? Tell me, how else can you? You can’t. You’re trying and you can’t. Why? You’re not Cottsigan.

 

Four months ago, the Avs season was ground to a halt; a time when anger at the NHL refs and banal Twitter accounts were all the hubbub. But we’re four months later, on a team that saw Philipp Grubauer, Jonas Donskoi, and Brandon Saad leave town, and Darcy Kuemper and… Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray arrive.

Johnson was a confusing name, especially coming off an injury-shortened season. First a PTO, then a signing, it was lambasted by fans as a strange move.

How did it turn out?

 

You can say it turned out well.

Johnson scored the Avs’ first of the season, coming off a breakaway from JT Compher, silencing any critics of his. The Avs were far from done that period, as the other Johnson — Erik, in case you forgot — playing his first regular season game in nearly a year, made the play that led to Landeskog’s to add a point.

And of course Bo Byram, adding his first career goal, and an assist.

Aside from a near-end-of-period goal from Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik, the first period was all Colorado. Ending the first 20 minutes with an 11-shot lead, a staggering 19 shots against new Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (an image that still requires a long “huh?”), it was, for all intents and purposes, the game.

 

Except, here’s the thing. Leads are easy to slip away.

Darcy Kuemper comes aboard. Like Johnson, vocal naysayers were silenced, specifically ones insisting the Avs’ new titanic netminder was a downgrade from Grubauer. But as the Blackhawks caught up in shots — specifically two breakaways from Kirby Dach — it was Kuemper that kept the Avs in the game for the next two. Ending the game having stopped 32 shots, Kuemper found himself not afraid to go into the dirty areas, and — especially in the case of breakaways like Dach’s — genuinely take risks.

It’s not a knock against Grubauer, hell, even his game against Vegas on Tuesday was fluke-ish. I’ve always believed Kuemper, especially playing on a struggling Arizona team, never got a fair shot to show what he could do on a better team — especially one that has Cale Makar and friends playing defense — and tonight was a prime example of what’s in store for the season.

The one downside from tonight, other than the obvious loss of Nathan MacKinnon and coach Jared Bednar, was the Avs on the PK. While it was generally a good setup by the Blackhawks’ powerplay, Byram, and the rest of that unit, generally looked a little shaky and out of position. It’s something the Avs rectified for the rest of the game, but it’s also something they’ll have time to figure out the next month.

Overall? No complaints. The Avs are back. Hockey is back.

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Random thoughts:

  • So much “Johnson and Johnson” jokes. If there was ever a helmet ad the Avs should have this season, it’s Johnson and Johnson
  • The NHL made its TNT debut tonight. There was no Ilya Bryzgalov, so it wasn’t perfect, but considering the last 15 years of NHL national broadcasting has been flavourless oatmeal, and expressionless sociopaths refusing to acknowledge personality, it was an absolute party. We also got Wayne Gretzky shooting pucks at renowned hockey fan Charles Barkley. Did NBC have that?
  • Speaking of the broadcast, the Altitude crew were missed tonight. Especially Marc Moser and Peter McNab. Avs fans love Moser and McNab. Unless you don’t follow the team, of course