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A Career First For Erik Johnson

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Erik Johnson is the Colorado Avalanche workhorse on defense, playing big minutes while delivering whopping hits and firing booming shots.

On Saturday night he was also a pillar in the Avs' offense.

Johnson scored twice for the first multi-goal game of his NHL career in Colorado's 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound rear guard leads all defensemen this season in goals (6) and is second in points (15).

"A lot of my teammates are doing the dirty work and giving [me] the good stuff," said Johnson of his two tallies, coming in his 438th NHL contest.

The Bloomington, Minn., native's first goal came during the Avs' first power play of the game at 14:01 of the opening period. Stopping the puck from leaving the zone at the left point, Johnson maneuvered his way to the top of the slot where he discharged a slap shot through traffic and past Blues goalie Jake Allen.

"I just had my head up and tried to pick a spot, and that doesn’t happen without guys going to the net with good traffic," Johnson said. "You’ve got to give Jarome [Iginla] and Gabe [Landeskog] credit on that for going hard [at] the net."

St. Louis tied the contest 1:22 later and then took a lead midway through the second period, but the Avs used the chances they received in the middle frame and took advantage before the 40-minute buzzer sounded.

Once again Johnson was in the mix, jumping into the play on a 3-on-2 rush. He received a cross-ice pass from Nathan MacKinnon, stickhandled the puck three times and then fired a wrister low, far side to beat Allen's blocker and knot the game 2-2 at 18:36.

Johnson also wasn't slacking on his defensive abilities against his former team, which selected him No. 1 overall in the 2006 Entry Draft, as head coach Patrick Roy made sure he was out there for all the key situations.

"People saw the best players on the ice a lot tonight." Roy said. "Every top line played 20-something minutes, just to show how bad each team wanted to win this game."

Johnson leads the Avs in ice time this season, and he did so once again against the Blues. He played 23:38, while also being a key figure on the blue line during power play and penalty kill situations.

He is playing the most minutes of his seven-year career, and Roy has recognized how important it is for the team to have its top D-man in every game. With Colorado having three contests and two practices the past five days, Roy has done his best to make sure Johnson is as fresh as possible for games.

"He's playing big minutes for us. He's playing 27, some nights 28 minutes," Roy said after Saturday's morning skate practice. "Today he went on the ice for just 10 minutes. I said to EJ, 'Go out there, get a little bit of a sweat and make sure you have the energy to play those big minutes.'"

Johnson definitely had the energy.

ANOTHER STRONG NIGHT FROM PICKARD

Calvin Pickard was once again on his game, making 39 saves—the second most of his young career. His career high is 42 saves, set Nov. 26 versus Chicago.

Calvin Pickard
Last 8 Games
Record: 4-3-1
GAA: 2.11 | Sv%: .936
"They were shooting from everywhere," Pickard said of his workload against St. Louis. "I didn't think there were a whole plethora of scoring chances, but they kept me in the game quite a bit, having a lot shots. They were going to the net hard. They're a heavy team, they screen you pretty well."

Maybe the only blemish was the final shot that ended the game, a knuckle-type attempt from TJ Oshie. Still, Pickard was at his best late in the contest to help force overtime, stopping16 shots in the second period and all 13 he faced in the third.

Pickard has made at least 30 saves in five of his seven starting assignments this year. He is now 4-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in his last eight games, which includes six starts (456 minutes, 250 shots against, 16 goals against).

GETTING HEALTHY

Marc-Andre Cliche returned to the Colorado lineup Saturday after missing the past five games with an oblique injury, and the team could receive a few more bodies in the next week.

Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said at morning skate that he is confident injured forwards Patrick Bordeleau and John Mitchell and defenseman Brad Stuart will play some time during upcoming Colorado road trip through Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Detroit.

Bordeleau has missed the entire season to this point after having offseason back surgery, and Mitchell has missed eight of his last nine contests with a leg injury. Stuart injured his hamstring Nov. 4 at Vancouver and has missed 15 games; his next appearance will be his 1,000th of his NHL career.

The Avs have four days between games, as they next play in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

"It's good to have those days off and prepare ourselves for our next game against Pittsburgh," Roy said. "At the same time, we're going to have guys coming on the road trip, which I think is very positive for us."

Cliche resumed his usual role as the fourth-line center, between rookies Dennis Everberg and Borna Rendulic.

Colorado has 162 man-games lost through the first 30 contests this season.

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