The records speak for themselves. The Wild are 15-2 and the Avs are now 16-3-1.
Those are the records when each team scores first. There’s a clear correlation between potting that opening goal, setting the tone, and then winning. It was part of the game plan heading into Thursday night’s game, which Avs head coach Jared Bednar a “good measuring stick for our hockey team to see where we stand.”
“You know, I think that the start was going to be real important,” Bednar said after Thursday’s 5-1 win over Minnesota. “Minny’s a strong starting hockey team, and I think they’re 10-1 in their last 30 days when they score first, and I believe that we were 9-1. So that first goal was an important one. And I thought our guys came out hungry and skating and in attack-mode trying to get it.”
They did get it, and it was the Avalanche who would strike first, netting that ever-important first goal roughly 10 minutes into the game.
“I think that might have been one of our better periods of the season, and we came out and we had no passengers. Everybody was going and all four lines were kind of rolling over the bench,” said Avs captain Gabe Landeskog.
It was part of two-goal first period, one in which the Avs outshot the Wild by a 25-6 margin, the largest shot differential by Colorado in a single period since 1997.
It was the exact start the Avalanche needed against a Minnesota team that came in red-hot as winners of their last five straight. The consensus on the night: It started with the energy the Avs fourth line brought during the first shift of the game.
“It starts with the jump that we have off the get go, and tonight Belly’s line with Calvy and OC had a great first shift, and we just tried to follow that and just fed off of that,” Landeskog added. “I think as a group we’re figuring out how we have to play to be successful.”
Mikko Rantanen, who’s two-goal, four-point night moved him into the NHL’s top-10 (fifth in goals scored), agreed with Landeskog.
“Right from the start, first shift of the game, Belly’s line, they played 40 seconds in the O-zone and every line followed that. We need that good start,” he said.
It’s the fourth line’s job, on any team, to bring that energy. That was coach Bednar’s thinking heading into Thursday night’s uber-important matchup against a Minnesota Wild team they’d hope to leapfrog in the West Division standings. It was a gut feeling Bednar had when filling out the night’s starting lineup card.
“It’s just a gut-call that I made when I was filling out the lineup card and trying to get them going,” Bednar said after the game. “We start the MacKinnon line a lot. And sometimes, you know, it’s just nice to have a different line out there and see if you can get sort of a quick energy shift to kind of get our guys going.
“We’ve started Belly’s line a couple times and had some real good results, just trying to get a spark. I think the guys get excited for a different line to start every once in a while, because normally we’re starting our big boys.”
That Avs fourth line helped set the tone—and precedent—early, and they never took their foot off the gas. Their five combined takeaways were more than the rest of Colorado’s other three lines combined. And their combined 10 minutes of total short-handed time were crucial as well.
Their 51.8 percent combined average Corsi For is impressive. The fourth-line trio are among the top-four on the team in fewest goals allowed, and are top-five among the group in fewest shots allowed.
While the stats are impressive, where the Avs fourth line really stands out is in a metric that isn’t necessarily measurable or tangible: They lead the team in spark and energy.