Patrik Nemeth was flawless in his obscure role Monday in the Avalanche’s Game 1 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
As a third-pairing defenseman and primary penalty killer, the big Swede proved he was worth the fourth-round draft pick Colorado gave the Detroit Red Wings in February to re-acquire the pending unrestricted free agent.
Nemeth, who split the last two regular seasons with the Avs and Red Wings, logged 18:43, had three shots and was plus-1 in the 4-1 victory. Most importantly, he led a perfect penalty kill (2-for-2) and was a warrior in front of goalie Philipp Grubauer.
In the third period, he had two significant physical confrontations with Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Clifford in front of Grubauer’s crease.
“Toughness is the first thing,” Nemeth, 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, said after Wednesday’s morning skate ahead of Game 2. “There’s going to be battles out there. If you’re looking at the other series, they’re battling for 60 minutes. It’s not going to be anything different with this series with the Blues. They’re going to play a physical game and we’re going to respond to that.
“Game 1, I thought we did a pretty good job. I think it’s going to heat up the further this series goes.”
Before the Avs acquired Nemeth ahead of the Feb. 12 trade deadline, they lacked some toughness and a lot of size on the back end — partly because Erik Johnson has been out since January was a long-term upper-body injury. The club also traded Nikita Zadorov in the offseason and Ian Cole three games into the season.
An experienced shutdown guy like Nemeth was needed, and he played his role extraordinarily well in the postseason opener.
“On the PK, we’ve done a pretty good job, putting pressure up ice and being tighter in the own zone (but) we’re going to have to keep getting better as this series moves on,” Nemeth said. “If we’re making an adjustment they see it right away and if they make an adjustment we see it. It’s just a matter of adjusting to each other for this whole series.”
Nemeth, 29, partners with rookie Conor Timmins at even strength and Ryan Graves, Devon Toews or Cale Makar on the penalty kill. Nemeth, who led the Avs with a plus-27 rating in 2017-18, was plus-6 in 13 games to finish the regular season.
Wednesday’s Game 2 was Nemeth’s 20th in the postseason. He played five playoff games for the Dallas Stars as a rookie in 2013-14 and the previous 14 with the Avs, including a combined 13 in 2018 and 2019.
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