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Avalanche Defense Leads The Way In Nashville

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Nashville Predators don't only have some of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL, but they also have the best offensive D-men.

Nashville leads the league in goals by rear guards, but on Saturday night it was the Colorado Avalanche blueliners that did most of the scoring.

Defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Nick Holden tallied in the opening stanza and forward Andreas Martinsen scored the winner in the third period to give the Avs a 3-2 victory over the division-foe Preds at Bridgestone Arena.

"I thought we played a strong game," head coach Patrick Roy said. "We had a big power-play goal. Dutchy did a great job to screen their goalie on Beauch's goal."

Beauchemin's third marker of the season opened the game's scoring at 8:37 of the first period as his slap shot from the left circle found some space inside near post on the Avalanche's first man advantage. Beachemin said Matt Duchene's screen of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne on the play was key.

"If Dutchy's not there, there is no way I'm going to score that goal," the veteran D-man said. "Goalies are too good in this league. They're going to stop those shots from the top of the circle if they see it. That screen is really important."

Holden, who had four goals in seven career games against the Predators, recorded his second of the year with 5:22 left in the first period. He finished off a nice passing sequence on a rush with Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell to give the Avs a 2-0 lead.

Miikka Salomaki got Nashville on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the opening frame on a redirection off his skate, but other than that it was an overall good first stanza for Colorado.

"I thought we did move the puck pretty good," Beauchemin said. "Got some good forechecking, offensive-zone time and we through a lot of pucks at the net, which we wanted to do."

Holden said the team's energy in the first period came from being prepared.

"I think coming in, yesterday we had a good practice," he said. "This morning we touched on it with video and stuff like that. Coming into the game we wanted to make sure [we were] ready to go right from the start. I think we did that."

Despite Nashville tying the contest 2-2 early in the third period off a slap shot from the point, Colorado had a solid defensive game. The Avs blocked 17 shots in front goaltender Semyon Varlamov, and they killed off all five Predators power plays, including three in the second period.

Varlamov finished with 34 saves and allowed Martinsen's rebound score midway through the final stanza to hold up as the game-winner.

"He was really good," Roy said of his goalie. "He made some really key saves, especially on those PKs as well. Overall, yes, he was very solid. But I would like to say our guys played well in front of him. Our D's were sharp.

"I thought we did a good job, and we had a huge goal from Martinsen."

Saturday's game was the start of a three-stop road trip for Avs, with the team playing three division opponents in four days.

"I think we all know that this three-game road trip is huge for us," Holden said. "We need to start gaining ground [in the standings], getting back into it and it's a perfect time to do it right here; three on the road and then [we] come home for three."

The Avalanche is off to a good start to its trek and improved its record in the tough Central Division to 5-2-0.


Patrick Roy didn't say who his starting goalie would be for Sunday's matchup at the St. Louis Blues, but it appears as if he's leaning toward keeping Varlamov in the crease.

"I haven't talked to him yet, but there is a good chance," Roy said of Varlamov in his postgame news conference following the victory in Nashville.

Varlamov is 3-1-0 in his last four games, and he passed Dan Bouchard for sole possession of third place on the franchise's games-played list (226) on Saturday. Only Roy (478) and Peter Budaj (242) have been in the net more with the Avalanche/Nordiques.

The Blues also played on Saturday night, defeating the league-leading Dallas Stars 3-0 at home.


Gabriel Landeskog missed his second consecutive contest with back spasms on Saturday, but the Avalanche captain may be close to returning.

Landeskog skated in the morning at the Predators' practice facility, and there is a possibility he could be back for Sunday's contest in St. Louis.

Mikhail Grigorenko took Landeskog's usual spot in the lineup as the left wing on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene.

Landeskog complained about his back hours before puck drop on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.

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