Of the players that you would think would score the first goals of the Colorado Avalanche season, John Mitchell and Cody McLeod would probably not make the list.
Both players are not known for their offensive production as Mitchell only scored five goals in 63 games last season with the New York Rangers and McLeod – entering his sixth season in Colorado – only found the back of the net six times in 75 contest last year.
However both emulated what head coach Joe Sacco had been stressing with his team during training camp: hard work and toughness.
Mitchell’s goal showed both as after he got hit in the face and drew blood behind the Minnesota net, he maneuvered his way to the top of the crease and scored while jamming in the puck five-hole.
“My nose wasn’t feeling to good at that point and my eyes were watery,” Mitchell said of his goal. “I was kind of ticked off so I was going in there whacking away. I was fortunate enough to put it in.”
Mitchell’s goal came just 2:07 into the game and on his first shift in an Avalanche uniform.
“To get one early, in your first game with a new team, it feels nice to get that one and get it behind you,” he said.
Used as the third-line center in the game, the 6-foot-1, 204 pound Mitchell also showed he had a little grit to his game early on as he connected on four hits in the first period.
“Obviously a part of my job on this team is to bring a physical element,” Mitchell said. “All I want to do is go out there and show the boys what I can do and give the team a chance to win every night; whether that is scoring a goal, hitting, blocking shots, I’m going to try and do everything I can.”
McLeod’s tally came on a set-play off a faceoff early in the third period and cut the Avalanche’s deficit to one.
After Mark Olver won the faceoff, defenseman Greg Zanon fired a shot from the point (tipped by Olver) and the puck rebounded off Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Set up in front of the net, McLeod picked up the rebound puck and backhanded it in.
The designed play worked to perfection as McLeod was supposed to screen Backstrom on Zanon’s shot and then try and score if there was a rebound.
“We have gone over it a few times in practice,” McLeod said of the play. “Board-side wingers go hard to the net and we just want to get pucks there. Luckily it was a rebound and it just popped out and I put it in the back of the net.”
McLeod’s line with Olver and left wing Patrick Bordeleau complimented each other well in the game as they were able to control the puck in the Wild end for long stretches of time.
“I thought for most of the night we were in their zone, hanging onto the puck, creating zone time,” McLeod said.
“Bordeleau’s presence (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) is felt on the ice when he is out there. Olver does a good job of getting under guy’s skin and hopefully drawing some penalties, and I can go out there and finish checks and do our grinding type game.”
McLeod also isn’t a guy afraid to drop the gloves and fight if he needs to. Just seconds after Mitchell scored and with Minnesota trying to get back the momentum, the Wild’s Zenon Konopka picked a fight with McLeod and the two dropped their gloves.
Those five penalty minutes will likely be the first of many for McLeod this season as he’s picked up at least 100 penalty minutes in each of his first five years in the league.
While Mitchell and McLeod’s jobs are to go out and be a physical presence on the ice, they showed on Saturday that they could be scoring threats as well. That’s something the Avalanche will gladly welcome.
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