TAMPA, Fla.-It's safe to say that the Colorado Avalanche heeded the directive of head coach Jared Bednar prior to the start of Thursday's game at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He wanted a solid start, strong penalty killing and more attention to detail in all situations, and that's exactly what the Avs gave him in a 4-0 shutout win
"I really liked it. That was our best start so far of this small season. We came out. We were skating. We were working, making good puck decisions, had a good first period and then it kind of carried on from there," Bednar said after the victory. "I thought it was a great bounce-back game for our team. After the way we played in Washington, we were disappointed. To me, that is probably the new bar for our team right there."
Colorado held Tampa to just five shots in the first period and 15 after two. The visiting squad also minimized costly penalties, allowing the Bolts just three man-advantage situations.
Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference
"I'm happy we won. I'm more happy by the way we won. Lesson learned I hope from the other night in Washington where we weren't doing the right things," Bednar said. "Tonight, we were doing the right things. If you do that consistently enough, then you're going to get the results you want."
Matt Duchene, who entered the night without a point on the season, decided enough was enough. The 25-year-old forward chased down a bouncing puck that Lightning center Steven Stamos was trying to corral, poked it between Stamkos' legs, maneuvered himself for positional advantage on a trailing defender, fired a shot into goaltender Ben Bishop, and then scooped his own rebound over Bishop into the net with 25 seconds remaining in the period to open the scoring.
"I was pretty ticked that I missed that first one, but luckily I was able to get enough on the second one to just chip it in," Duchene said of the play.
Duchene's second marker came with less than a minute remaining in the middle stanza when he tipped a Patrick Wiercioch point-shot through Bishop to give Colorado a 2-0 lead. Duchene then capped off his three-point night with an assist on Carl Soderberg's marker, helping seal the 4-0 victory.
Netminder Semyon Varlamov was perfect throughout the match, turning aside each and every one of the 27 shots thrown his direction, no matter the velocity or direction from which they came.
"When we needed a save, Varly was there," Bednar said. "He was big for us."
Video: Semyon Varlamov talks about his shutout
"We played really well today. We played all 60 minutes. We were battling, you know. Even when we were leading 2-0, we were playing the structure like the coach said this morning," added Varlamov. "We need to play with the structure all 60 minutes and that's what we did all game long."
A response to Tuesday's loss is what Bednar wanted, and he got that in all areas on Thursday.
"I think it's a great response. The deal is, games after you win are important, but games after you lose are extremely important," said Bednar. "I think that says a lot about our leadership, the way we approached today. Everyone was holding teammates accountable, and they were ready to work and they were a determined group today, for sure."
PENALTY KILLING COMING AROUND
There was a stat on the scoreboard during warmup at Amalie Arena that incorrectly listed the Avalanche as tied for first in the NHL in penalty killing. While it was a simple error--the club was actually listed at 29th prior to the game--it certainly gave the team something to strive for in Thursday's contest.
It's one thing to not allow a goal when playing down a player, but it's another thing to minimize the opportunities you give the opposing team to begin with. The Avs kept their infractions to just three, and they were perfect when defending without that fifth man on the ice.
Video: Matt Duchene talks about the victory
"We're showing what we're made of. We're showing we have a lot of fight. It doesn't matter how good we are on paper or how good we're not on paper when we play together as a group," Duchene said. "We have a great group in here, a character group, a talented group, and we're learning that you got to go out and play and you got to compete and you got to work and you got to play a good structure. That was the message today before the game, and we were able to achieve that."
The first thing coach Bednar noticed about the evening's successful PK unit was the improvement in the faceoff circle.
"We started winning some draws, we got some clears, and we were able to use our rush coverage to try and get a few more clears," Bednar said afterward. "It wasn't just an automatic setup for the opposing team, so that helps you right away. The attention to detail, the sacrifice and our 'D' blocked some shots. We got hungry around the net and cleared out some rebounds, and when we needed a save, we got it from Varly.
"They have a lot of dangerous weapons and some guys that can shoot it and make some plays, and we did a good job tonight."
SMITH JOINS CENTURY CLUB
Avs forward Ben Smith skated in his 200th NHL game on Thursday night, replacing teammate Rene Bourque (groin) in the lineup for the match.
The 28-year-old forward has 50 points (27 goals, 23 assists) in his 200 games played. He joined the Avs as a free agent on Aug. 15, 2016.
Smith played four seasons with Boston College prior to making the leap to professional hockey, and he won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012-13.