If there has been a silver lining to the Avalanche’s ongoing obstacle of first-period duds, it has been their almost equal propensity for improving throughout games. During the current 11-game stretch without a first-intermission lead, the Avs have also won on third-period comebacks for the first two times this season.
The opposite was true in the first game of 2023: Colorado struck 25 seconds into the game but wilted in the second period of a 3-2 home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night.
The Avalanche (19-14-3) lost only five regulation games in January for the past three years, but they have begun this January with a fourth consecutive defeat out of the holiday break.
They were outshot 15-9 — allowing more than twice as many as the previous frame — and gave up two goals in the second period, both to Nicolas Roy. The Avs had a chance to double their early lead, but a Mikko Rantanen shot dinged off the crossbar, and the puck was in Alexandar Georgiev’s net exactly 10 seconds later for a Vegas 1-1 equalizer.
There were numerous other opportunities to widen the gap, or later to close it. But Colorado couldn’t convert on five power plays, while the Golden Knights scored on a delayed penalty as goaltender Logan Thompson arrived at the bench for an extra skater.
The Avalanche went 4-for-34 on the power play during Nathan MacKinnon’s 11-game absence (including the four opportunities after he exited in Philadelphia). But in two games since his return from an upper-body injury, the drought has continued with an 0-for-8 stretch.
MacKinnon did solve one problem: the slow starts. When he netted a wrister during his first shift, it turned out to be Colorado’s only shot on goal in the first seven minutes.
Artturi Lehkonen had a golden backdoor chance with an empty net, but the puck skipped on him. Early in the third period, the puck crawled along Thompson’s goal line but never across it before the Golden Knights cleared the danger. In the 31 minutes of play after the first period, the Avalanche only put nine shots on net.
Then they finally got the break they needed, fittingly by about a centimeter. Lehkonen threw the puck toward the net front, and after taking a bounce it seemed to stick to the inside of the back post. Rantanen was the only home jersey in a crowd of players crashing the net, and his stick jammed the puck barely across. Officials didn’t initially rule it a goal, but as MacKinnon urgently gestured that it was across video review was deployed.
The result revived the crowd of 18,092 with 8:52 remaining. Soon the Avalanche had another power play. Vegas cleared the zone as its last 10 seconds disappeared.
Darren Helm and Martin Kaut were back in the lineup, but as the Avs took two steps forward, they took one step back: Evan Rodrigues was scratched from the lineup with an upper-body injury after skating as usual Monday morning. And team captain Gabriel Landeskog, recovering from October knee surgery, is “nowhere close” to returning, Jared Bednar said.