SEATTLE — There’s something about Pavel Francouz in shootouts. Perhaps it’s his ability to use his stick, as Mikko Rantanen suggests. Or maybe his athleticism, as Erik Johnson muses. His left-handedness could also throw opponents off, Alex Newhook thinks.
Whatever the reason, Francouz is pretty darn good when it’s just him and another skater on the ice after overtime. Perfect, technically. He has faced 12 shootout attempts in his NHL career. Zero have found the back of the net.
“It’s a battle of who is going to stay patient for a longer time,” Francouz said. “I’m trying to stay high in my crease and get the players’ speed and see what they’re going to do.”
That’s what led to Colorado’s 2-1 shootout win against the Kraken on Saturday. Going against former goalie partner Philipp Grubauer, Francouz didn’t allow a goal on any of the shots he saw. On two, he poke-checked the puck away from Kraken forwards.
Francouz’s shootout heroics handed Colorado its fifth win in five games. The Avalanche were on a Pacific Northwest back-to-back, having played Vancouver on Friday, but that didn’t stop them. They went 3-0-0 on their trip, even with Cale Makar (day-to-day) missing each game with an upper-body injury.
Grubauer and Francouz were teammates for parts of three seasons in Colorado. Both finished with 26 saves Saturday and made big saves to keep the fast-paced game low-scoring.
“We just said hi in the warmups,” Francouz said. “It’s always fun to play against your friend and former teammate. He always has good games against us.”
Added Johnson: “Those two are great. … They know each other well, and it was a hard-fought game on both ends of the ice for both of those guys. They both played great.”
Francouz was steady in Colorado’s net, and the Avalanche also caught a few breaks. Jamie Oleksiak hit a post in the third period, and Yanni Gourde missed the net coming out of the penalty box in the first period. John Hayden nearly scored on a two-on-one, but his shot was also off-target.
The Colorado goalie’s biggest moments came in the shootout. He poke-checked a Ryan Donato attempt to start, then watched a Jordan Eberle attempt sail wide. Daniel Sprong had the final attempt after Nathan MacKinnon scored for Colorado, and Francouz once again poke-checked the puck away.
“He was going a little bit faster and then he slowed down in front of me,” Francouz said. “I let him go really close to me. I was waiting for what he was going to do. When he was really close I just stuck my stick in front of him.”
Francouz’s teammates cheered as he entered the dressing room following the win, and Colorado will head home having earned all six possible points on the road swing. That leads off the takeaways from the trip-ending back-to-back:
MacKinnon set up Francouz’s shootout brilliance with an impressive move himself. He moved his hands like lightning and, at the last moment, slid the puck through Grubauer’s legs.
“(Grubauer) knows our guys,” Johnson said. “I’m sure he expected Nate to go glove. Nate’s got a whole bag of tricks. I haven’t seen him go five-hole too often, so that was a little bit of a surprise.”
Would Francouz have stopped it?
“I think I would have poke-checked him,” he said with a laugh.
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The Avalanche went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill against the Kraken, allowing Seattle to get only two shots. In Vancouver, the penalty kill successfully stopped four Canucks power plays and allowed only seven shots.
“There were some instances at the start of the first half of the year where teams were really exploiting the slot on us and the D, we were a little more passive and we were still giving up that chance where they’d bump it low and push it right in the slot,” Johnson said. “We were trying to take that away but it was still being exploited on us. Pratter said, ‘Let’s make an adjustment and be a little more aggressive.’ That worked. It’s been working for us so far.”
The team has rushed toward opponents more, leading to fewer chances. The Avalanche are now 19th in the league in penalty-kill percentage after going 15-for-16 in their past six games.
“We’re just pressuring a lot better,” Andrew Cogliano said. “Our pressure points are a lot better. Pratter made a couple adjustments for us to be on our toes.”
Bednar has put Newhook back at center lately, playing him primarily on a line with Cogliano and Logan O’Connor. The coach, who preferred Newhook at wing most of the first half of the season, said he’s looked better up the middle of the ice than he did earlier in the year. Against the Canucks, he remained strong on the puck coming out of the defensive zone, despite Conor Garland being all over him. That led to Cogliano nudging the puck into the offensive zone, where the Avalanche began their forecheck. Newhook and O’Connor got the puck from J.T. Miller along the boards, and Newhook whipped it to Cogliano, who scored from the slot.
“That’s kind of the identity of our line: Get on the forecheck, get some pucks back,” Newhook said. “Cogs found a great spot to get open.”
Adds Cogliano: “He’s a player who is good offensively and plays with the puck.”
Newhook continued his strong play in Seattle. Midway through the second period, with the lines a bit jumbled, Jacob MacDonald flung a puck on net from the blue line. Artturi Lehkonen tried to drive home the rebound. He couldn’t, but the puck trickled out to Newhook in the offensive zone faceoff circle. He lifted it into the net. The young center nearly set up Mikko Rantanen for a goal later in the period. The two were on a rush when Rantanen fed him the puck. Newhook whacked it right back, but perhaps a little too quickly. The pass seemed to catch Rantanen off guard and he didn’t make great contact with the puck, but that didn’t stop the star winger from complimenting his younger teammate after the game.
“He’s been really good for us,” he said. “He’s been working hard to get better.”
Newhook started the season with zero points in his first eight games. Since then, he has 10 goals and eight assists in 37 games. That’s close to a 40-point 82-game pace.
Meyers still searching for scoring touch
Ben Meyers is still waiting for his first goal since being called back up to the NHL club 22 games ago. He nearly backhanded a rebound attempt into the net against the Kraken. He beat Gruabauer, but his former Big Ten adversary Matty Beniers swooped into the crease and stopped the puck before it crossed the line.
Makar went through warm-ups ahead of the Kraken game but wasn’t quite ready to go. Bednar classified the upper-body injury, sustained against Detroit on Monday, as day-to-day.
“The bright side of it is it’s not long term,” the coach said. “It’s not something that’s going to hamper him for a long time.”
(Photo of Pavel Francouz poking the puck from Ryan Donato of the Kraken in a shootout: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)