It wouldn’t be uncommon for the adrenaline rush of a bursting opportunity to be blurred: instincts take over, with no time for conscious calculations.
Logan O’Connor would rather think through every millisecond.
It worked for him on Thursday night when he found himself in a situation that was too good to be true. Two minutes after O’Connor scored to put the Avalanche ahead against Nashville, linemate JT Compher blocked a shot and battled two Predators for the puck. It trickled forward to O’Connor in the neutral zone, and suddenly he was accelerating at full speed towards Nashville goalie Kevin Lankinen.
He knew immediately that he wanted to use his backhand. He executed flawlessly, a clever move from a player not known for his skill.
“I had a lot of speed coming through the zone,” he said, “so I figured if I could get it around him a little bit, I’d have a chance to beat him.”
Coach Jared Bednar believes the recent spate of Avalanche calls is a lesson.
Another AHL forward will be called up for Colorado’s game against Carolina on Saturday (7:00 p.m. MT). It’s another move in the ongoing injury crisis that is limiting Bednar’s playing prowess. Shane Bowers made his NHL debut Thursday, retiring with an apparent left arm injury after 1:46 of ice time. He’s waiting for an MRI result.
His $750,000 salary remains part of Avalanche’s cap if he is absent for an extended period. As such, the team had no choice but to use long-term injury reserve to stay below the league’s salary cap while still having enough skaters on hand. Forward Darren Helm, who underwent hijacker surgery last week, went to the LTIR.
How much can Colorado (7-4-1) count on the next, next, next man?
For example, look at the up-and-coming O’Connor.
“Focus and preparation is extremely important for guys who don’t have a lot of skill or ability,” Bednar said Friday. “When guys like (Nathan) MacKinnon and Mikko (Rantanen) have it, they become superstars. It becomes essential for the bottom six like (Andrew) Cogliano, O’Connor – they thrive and thrive and create all their success from the structure and details of the game. … It’s a good lesson for all the guys we call. Watch out for O’Connor.”
The third-line wing didn’t score in Colorado’s first six games. He has scored five goals in the last six.
O’Connor was never drafted. He received an invite to Avalanche Development Camp and proved he was enough to sign as an undrafted free agent. He had 67 points in 104 AHL games with the Colorado Eagles. Now he has a Stanley Cup ring.
Recently, his line with Compher and Cogliano has been a catalyst.
“The three of us are all defensively focused on our details,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s where we try to be proud of ourselves. … We compete against the top lines and skill players a lot and our job is to take them out.”
On a night that saw Colorado score five straight goals, Bednar was unhappy with the lack of a full team effort.
The effort he liked came from that third line winning puck fights.
“These are three guys who aren’t really creative guys,” Bednar said. “They know where the other will be because they play under our system. Eventually your ability takes over. You will now see many skill games from O’Connor. He gets these opportunities because of hard work.”
Compher won a puck fight against two opponents. He knew where O’Connor would be. Defense became offensive. Grit turned into skill.
But first, O’Connor had plenty of time to think.