A day before his team’s season opener, Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic talked about the importance of getting off to a fast start.
Well, Mikko Rantanen hit the ground running with a pair of goals in the opener and looks to keep the Avalanche sprinting along on Saturday when they host the Minnesota Wild in Denver.
Rantanen didn’t miss a step in Thursday’s 5-3 victory over Calgary despite sitting out all of training camp and the preseason before signing a six-year, $55.5 million contract.
Minnesota, however, stumbled out of the blocks after allowing four goals in the third period of its 5-2 loss at Nashville on Thursday.
“This third period kind of puts a damper on everything,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “It is what it is. We have to go to Colorado and get it back.”
The Wild and Avalanche have created a strong rivalry over the years thanks to some gritty playoff matchups. Minnesota pulled off first-round upsets of Colorado in 2003 and 2014 while the Avalanche did the same to Wild in 2008.
Minnesota was expected to be a playoff team in 2018-19 but finished seven points behind Colorado, which grabbed the second wild card and came within a game of reaching the Western Conference final.
Colorado is trying to build on that surprising success of last season, and bringing back Rantanen was vital. The contract talks reportedly were amicable and a signing felt more inevitable than questionable before the details were finalized last week.
Rantanen didn’t show any rust, logging 18:30 of ice time and playing seamlessly with linemates Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog.
“I can’t deny, everybody loves to score goals, especially when the team wins,” Rantanen said. “It feels good. It’s already been four or five days and now we played the first game. I felt surprisingly good, but it’s probably going to take a couple of games to get fresh legs.”
Colorado relied heavily on its top line to carry the scoring load in 2018-19, but offseason signings of center Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi add depth and potential secondary scoring. Donskoi also had two goals on Thursday, including one into an empty net to seal the win.
Minnesota also has playoff aspirations, and it helps that defenseman Ryan Suter is healthy after dealing with an ankle injury that compromised him for most of last season.
“I’m healthy, so I have high expectations for myself and high expectations for our team,” Suter told The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “We know what we have. We know that we can do it. There’s always so much noise from outside the locker room. For us, it’s about focusing on us, and being together, and treating it like it’s us against everyone.”
–Field Level Media