Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said there were certain elements of the game that his team felt deficient in last season, particularly given the injuries to certain players.
Ross Colton and Miles Wood were two of the club’s key additions in the offseason, in part because they excel in those areas. The pair did not need long to show why. They skated on a line together Sunday afternoon at Ball Arena and were two of the most impactful players in Colorado’s first exhibition contest.
“For the most part, I think we played pretty well,” Colton said after a 4-3 loss to Minnesota. “I don’t think we spent much time in our ‘D’ zone really, which is always a positive. We had a couple of nice plays out there. We just didn’t capitalize, but I don’t know … first game, I thought it was pretty good.”
Wood’s first shift included a scoring chance when he took the puck off the boards and went directly to the net. A few seconds later he flattened a Minnesota Wild player with a huge open-ice hit.
“It felt good. That’s my game, in a sense,” Wood said. “Yeah, first shift went well, for sure.”
Colton followed with his own big open-ice hit later in the game. He also spent time fending off various Wild players after the whistle, because he had done something to antagonize them seconds before.
Both players signed long-term contracts with the Avs, and their ability to compliment the club’s top offensive forwards with production of their own will be a key factor this season. They skated with Tomas Tatar, another newcomer, and that could be the third line on opening night Oct. 11 in Los Angeles.
But it’s definitely not just the goals and points with Colton and Wood. The chaos they create on the ice with their speed and physicality is something the Avs wanted more of. There was a lot of it Sunday afternoon.
“It’s in our identity, the way both of us play,” Colton said. “The first shift, Miles ran somebody over. I was trying to throw (my body) around a little bit as well, just trying to get a little spark. I think come game one, me and him are going to know what to bring. We’ll be ready.”
Wood is one of the fastest and most powerful skaters in the NHL. His style is abrasive and direct. He drew multiple penalties against the Wild with his simple, but effective formula. Get the puck and take it to the net. Don’t have the puck? Go get it, or go to the net.
He had a breakout season in 2017-18 with 19 goals, and he had 17 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign. Wood has also had multiple seasons where he didn’t convert enough of the scoring chances he helped create, and he missed nearly all of 2021-22 because of a hip injury.
The Avs saw a vintage Wood performance Sunday. He created scoring chances on his own and a couple for others with his particular brand of havoc.
“He just flies around out there,” Colton said. “It makes it easier for us. Especially for me playing center, those indirect passes are pretty lethal with a guy like that who has a lot of speed. We did a good job of creating some turnovers in the offensive zone. Hopefully the goals will come.”
Colton isn’t quite as big, but he can play with similar ferocity. He’s also scored 38 goals over the past two seasons for Tampa Bay despite averaging fewer than 13 minutes of ice time per game. He’s a versatile player who could see time in all three phases for Colorado.
The two of them also played together on the penalty kill Sunday. That’s something neither player has a lot of experience with recently – they’ve combined for fewer than five minutes of shorthanded ice time in the past two seasons – but it’s another area where the Avs might need their help.
“I felt good out there,” Wood said. “Putting on the sweater for the first time was a great feeling for me personally. It’s a new chapter in my life and my career, so I was happy to be out there.”
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