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Avalanche's Penalty-Killing Unit Thriving

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Normally when a team goes on a power play, it’s an advantage for the club that has five skaters on the ice. But lately, the term “short-handed” has been a misnomer when talking about the Colorado Avalanche’s penalty-killing unit.

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Colorado’s short-handed play has raised some eyebrows recently, particularly on Tuesday night when rookie Ryan O’Reilly netted a pair of goals while Paul Stastny was serving a double-minor for high-sticking in Colorado’s eventual 5-1 win over Columbus.

Tuesday’s game wasn’t an aberration. The Avalanche has killed off 24 consecutive penalties - one kill shy of its longest streak of the season - while scoring three short-handed goals during that same span.

T.J. Galiardi assisted on both of O’Reilly’s tallies last night and also scored the Avs’ other shorty during that stretch (Jan. 29 at Dallas). He is now tied for the NHL lead with three short-handed assists and leads all rookies with four short-handed points.

Galiardi credits much of the penalty-killing unit’s recent success to Avalanche assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk, who implemented a new wrinkle into the team’s system that has the forwards applying more pressure up-ice than in the past.

“I think it’s worked out well for us obviously,” said Galiardi. “It just makes it harder for them to get into the zone and kills more time, so that’s been one of the reasons for our success lately.

“When it comes down to do it, it’s about the little things; getting the puck down 200 feet when you get it on your stick and winning faceoffs, which O’Reilly has been unbelievable at lately on the penalty kill.”

O’Reilly, the only NHL rookie with two short-handed goals this year, became the first player in Avalanche history to net a pair of goals on the penalty kill in the same contest. The last player in franchise history to accomplish the feat was Tony McKegney for the Quebec Nordiques on Oct. 20, 1984 at Toronto.

The Clinton, Ontario native says that balancing the fine line of playing aggressive versus taking unnecessary risks is what’s made the Avalanche’s penalty-killing unit thrive.

“We’ve been working as a unit together and everything is just going right,” said O’Reilly. “We’re getting pucks out and being aggressive. There’s a certain thing called controlled aggression, which is knowing when to go and when not to go. I think it all comes down to our reads. That’s what we’re doing well, reading the situation and knowing when to attack.”

Sibling Rivalry
On Thursday the Avalanche will face the Predators in Nashville. Coincidentally enough, the Preds are the last team to score a power-play goal against the Avs.

The Predators went 1-for-5 on the power play during a Jan. 22 contest in Denver, but the Avalanche thwarted Nashville’s final three power-play opportunities that night to hold on for a 2-1 victory.

While it’s hard to top a game in which you score a pair of short-handed goals, Thursday’s contest may be even more special for O’Reilly.

The rookie’s older brother, Cal, is a forward for the Predators, and tomorrow’s game could be the first time the two meet at the NHL level. Cal, who has played in 17 games for Nashville this season, was reassigned to the Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee just days before Colorado visited the Music City last month.

“I never thought we’d be playing in the National Hockey League against each other this soon,” said the younger O’Reilly. “Since we were kids this is what we’ve dreamed of doing. We used to pretend like we were Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, all those great players. Now here we are. It’s amazing and I never thought it was going to happen.”

Anderson Given Day Off
Goaltender Craig Anderson didn’t practice today, but Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco said it was simply to give his goaltender a break.

“Just wanted to give him a day of rest,” said Sacco. “I think it will be beneficial for him.”

There was no immediate word on if Anderson or Peter Budaj will start tomorrow against the Predators.
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