DENVER - A turbulent week – featuring a fortunate return – draws to a close.
Four Colorado Avalanche games were postponed Friday. After five players entered NHL COVID protocol, the Avalanche confirmed Saturday there have been several additional positive COVID-19 test results since a return to Denver from Nashville. All were accompanied by “no symptoms at all or very mild,” according to a team spokesperson. The team will continue to test daily during the pause and follow guidelines set forth by the league and local health authorities.
Defensemen Cale Makar and Devon Toews, forwards J.T. Compher and Andre Burakovsky and goaltender Darcy Kuemper all entered protocol Tuesday through Thursday.
Kuemper’s late addition to the list meant Pavel Francouz made his first non-preseason NHL start since Aug. 30, 2020, and sooner than expected. Francouz’s steady return was a positive takeaway from the last, strange game in Nashville before the pause.
Francouz missed the entire 2020-21 NHL season while recovering from surgery on each hip. Then in a preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights, projected No. 2 goalie Francouz twisted awkwardly against the post, as described by coach Jared Bednar, and was ruled out for about a month.
Francouz did a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles and went 3-1-0 with a 1.52 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and a shutout.
“It really helped me to get into the game rhythm,” Francouz said. “It was a good workload. We had some good practices during those two weeks. It was really helpful for me to get back on the ice.”
After his third victory in Loveland, Francouz backed up Kuemper on Sunday and was expected to see game action soon. He said he found out about an hour and a half before the Predators game that the timetable had suddenly moved up.
“For sure, something special after such a long time. I just wished we won this game,” Francouz said following a 30-save effort. “That would make everything so much better.”
Bednar guessed Francouz wanted the first goal back - a shot through a partial screen that wiggled its way past the goaltender’s arm. But he appeared comfortable throughout a 5-2 loss and made several timely saves.
“He was good. I think he looked sharp,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “He made some big saves. A couple bounces he can’t do anything – I think we had a couple of defensive breakdowns.”
In the first seven minutes of the game, the Predators took five of the six total shots on goal.
“I felt pretty good,” Francouz said. “They had some shots in the start which helped me get the feeling of getting in the game.”
He was especially good as the Avalanche killed off 56 seconds of 5-on-3 time early in the second period, then quickly went down a man again.
“He came up with a lot of nice saves. He looked strong and athletic and played hard and competed,” Bednar said. “That’s all you can ask from him.
“Some of the mistakes we made put him in tough situations and he made some big saves for us. I would say that was a pretty good outing for him on this night. And hopefully - and I’m sure - he’ll only get better.”
Note: Mikhail Maltsev and Justin Barron were returned from the Avalanche to the Eagles on Friday, according to the AHL transaction wire, and able to play Saturday against the Stockton Heat.