Well, the preseason is finally OVER. It was only six games, even if it felt more like 60 at times. If it’s better to go into the season on a winning note, despite a 2-4 overall record, then the Colorado Avalanche are in good shape entering Wednesday’s regular-season opener at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Avs finished up the preseason with a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars at Ball Arena. A strong showing from the skaters, and an even better one from goalie Jonas Johansson, tamed the Stars.
If there is one big, gleaming positive from the night, it was the play of Johansson, who is now thrust into the Avs’ early-season plans as the backup to starting goalie Darcy Kuemper. Ridiculed by fans everywhere when the Avs acquired him from Buffalo last season, Johansson went 5-1-1 for the team down the stretch and seems a much more confident guy than at any point last year.
Last season “was for me, huge,” Johansson said after the game. “Now, deep in my soul, I feel like I know I can play at this level. Tonight, I felt good. Felt like it was a strong performance from the team first minute to last.”
Nolan Pratt met the media after the game, standing in for head coach Jared Bednar (Covid-19), and he said, first off, Cale Makar will be ready for opening night, despite not playing in the preseason. Second, he said that Justin Barron acquitted himself well. It’s going to be a tough call from coaching and management to send him down from here, but he’s still only 19 and maybe it’s still too soon still.
Then again, maybe not.
Pratt is in charge of the defense and penalty killing when Bednar is on the job. Fellow assistant Ray Bennett is in charge of the forwards and the power play. For now, they are splitting those duties and then some as the Avs enter opening night. It is very likely that Bednar won’t be available to be on the bench Wednesday, and for the next couple of games after that at least.
If any of the coaches can go into the season feeling like they don’t have to play Kuemper every night, that Johansson can still win a game in his stead, then it would go a long way to calming some of the ongoing nerves people have about him. Most of his wins were against mediocre teams, and there was still the sense, before Francouz’s injury, that he would be a non-factor in the Avs’ season. That’s changed already.
Johansson only had to make 18 saves, but he made some very good ones in going the distance. Nathan MacKinnon scored two goals, Mikko Rantanen and J.T. Compher had the others and Andre Burakovsky had two assists.
The Avs will take tomorrow off, then get back to practice Monday. There is still the question of who will be the last cut from training camp, and it could be any one of three defensemen (Jack Johnson, Justin Barron or Jacob MacDonald). Barron played 20 minutes, 12 seconds and had three attempted shots on net and four hits.
He’s making it tough on everyone to justify sending him down. It could be a long night of pondering for the recuperating Bednar and Messrs. Pratt and Bennett.
Here are the “event summary” stats for the Avs:
Jack Johnson made a strong final closing argument for why he should be signed to a contract, after starting camp on a PTO. He played nearly 18 minutes of strong hockey, going a plus-2 and making good decisions with the puck.
Sampo Ranta? He probably won’t remember this night well. The rookie took four separate minor penalties in the game and did not register a shot on net.