It was a mixture of hockey players in the Avalanche salary-cap compliant lineup on Saturday night.
Coach Jared Bednar said he would use a “blender” to create it, and the Avs nearly whipped it into a win.
But COVID-19 protocol, injuries, and a suspension limited Colorado’s firepower, and a handful of AHL regulars and goalie Darcy Kuemper weren’t good quite enough against the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena.
Perhaps some would consider it a moral victory, but the Blues — despite being outshot and blowing a late three-goal lead — skated off with a 5-3 victory in their season opener on the strength of David Perron’s two goals and some luck at the end.
The Avs, who were playing their second game of the season, were missing star center Nathan MacKinnon, team captain Gabe Landeskog and a whole lot more.
However, they rallied for two goals late in the third period making it 4-3 with 3:42 remaining, and appeared to tie it a minute later. But Tyson Jost’s second goal didn’t count, as officials said he used a distinct kicking motion to put the puck past goalie Jordan Binnington.
Former Avs center Ryan O’Reilly scored an empty-net goal with 19.3 seconds remaining.
“We’re proud of the way we fought tonight, especially being down 4-1 late,” said Avs forward J.T. Compher, who had the third goal making it a 4-3 game. “Nobody on the bench gave up. We’re proud of the effort.
“Everyone stayed committed. Like I said before, we never gave up.”
Defenseman Jack Johnson became the Avs’ fourth loss in the opening week of the season when the team announced he joined MacKinnon in COVID protocol. Forwards Landeskog (suspension) and Valeri Nichushkin (upper-body injury) were also unavailable. Defenseman Devon Toews and goalie Pavel Francouz began the season on injured reserve, so the Avs were missing six players from an ideal lineup.
Colorado had just 17 skaters and two goalies in the lineup to be cap compliant with the league.
“Put it this way, it’s going to be a blender,” Bednar said of his lineup after the morning skate.
After the game, Bednar said: “A loss is a loss but I think you know me well enough by now — I’m not going to judge our team on just results all the time. I think the guys played hard — they were resilient throughout the game.”
The Avs were down to 10 forwards when Stefan Matteau, who was recalled from the AHL’s Colorado Eagles along with forward Dylan Sikura on Friday, left the game with a lower-body injury early in the second period.
Shortly thereafter, Blues forward Brayden Schenn skated past new Avs defenseman Kurtis MacDermid and beat Kuemper with a wrist shot to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. Kuemper allowed three goals on just 14 shots at that point.
MacDermid, who was the only healthy scratch in Wednesday’s 4-2 opening-night victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, was replacing Johnson.
St. Louis outscored the Avs 2-1 in the second period despite Colorado producing 16 of 21 shots in the period. Andre Burakovsky had the Avs’ goal, and the ice was against tilted in the host’s favor in the third period until rookie Sampo Ranta was assessed an interference minor and Perron scored with four seconds remaining on the power play.
“You never want to lose and we don’t come into the game tonight going like, ‘Oh, I might as well just try.’ Our goal was to win tonight,” Avs defenseman Cale Makar said. “Obviously, didn’t come up with that but at the same time, it’s adversity that we knew it was going to be tough and I’m proud of the team.”
Colorado (1-1) embarks on a three-game road trip that goes through the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, the Florida Panthers on Thursday, and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Landeskog will complete his suspension against the Capitals. MacKinnon, who had a positive COVID test on Monday and also missed the opener, could be back for the next game.
Footnote. Schenn and Avs center Nazem Kadri fought just 40 seconds into the game. It was obviously Schenn’s idea and in response to Kadri’s check-to-the-head of Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of last season’s first-round playoff series. Kadri was assessed an eight-game suspension for the hit that forced Faulk to miss Games 3 and 4 of that series with a concussion. “I thought (Kadri) did a great job of answering the bell and. And then it was over and we got started playing hockey,” Compher said.
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