The Colorado Avalanche knew it was in for a tough trial against the St. Louis Blues on Monday night, and that is exactly what the visiting squad got while closing out a five-game road trip.
It was a hard-hitting affair at Scottrade Center in Missouri, with the home team skating away to a 3-1 victory when the dust settled.
“It was the last game of our road trip, five games,” said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy. “Yeah, it’s always tough to win the last one, but at the same time we knew that it would be a good test for us, a good challenge. And I’ll give them credit, they played a good game.”
Expecting an amplified physical aspect to the contest, the Avalanche came out hitting and carried it on through the full 60 minutes of play, finishing with a 40-24 hit differential. Tough-guy Cody McLeod led the charge, smashing and crashing his way to eight hits on the night. His effort was replicated by teammates Nick Holden, Erik Johnson, Jarome Iginla and Dennis Everberg, all of who finished with four checks each.
Yet it was goaltender Semyon Varlamov who really shined for the Avalanche on the night. Despite taking the loss, Varlamov was as solid as could be between the sanguine pipes, turning aside every shot that he faced directly and 27 of the 30 that came his way on the whole.
The Blues found the net at the 8:06 mark of the first period after a Carl Gunnarsson shot from the point caromed off Alex Tanguay’s leg, changing direction before sneaking behind Varlamov for the opening score of the game.
In position initially, Varlamov was screened on the play and couldn’t account for the sudden reroute of the puck, which crept just inside the far post for the tally.
Avalanche center Matt Duchene tied the game nearly five minutes later when he sent a backhand shot—while in mid-twirl—toward the Blues net. The puck ricocheted off St. Louis center Paul Stastny’s stick and through netminder Brian Elliott to even out the early bounce against.
The goal rejuvenated the Avs, who kept pace with St. Louis for the remainder of the period.
The middle frame proved to be the deciding one for the Blues, who scored twice in the first 10:40—including on a power play just 32 seconds in—to seal the 3-1 win.
Both goals, much like the first of the night, didn’t beat Varlamov clean. Jaden Schwartz got the man-advantage tally after his initial shot hit the skate of Erik Johnson and came right back to him. Varlamov was square to the puck, eating up all of the shooting space, on the first shot, but couldn’t regain position for the follow up. On his second attempt, Schwartz had a wide-open basket to fill.
T.J. Oshie got the third goal off a rebound, spinning off his defender and around Varlamov to extend the puck into the net.
Colorado countered in the third, but couldn’t crack Elliott again to push the contest back to an even score.
“I thought we started okay, and the third was the same thing. I thought we had a good third, but obviously the second was the difference maker in that game,” said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. “It seemed to me that—when they scored that plower-play goal—I thought they were strong on those pucks, and I would say they were probably the better team in the compete level.”
For most of the night, the Avalanche was unable to find enough time to do anything offensively. This was due to the smothering defensive game that St. Louis employed.
“Their tracking is pretty solid. When they lose the puck, they’re coming back very fast, and coming in their end pretty strongly. And obviously that takes a lot of time away from us, and it was probably the big difference in the game,” said Roy. “Their ‘D’ did a good job holding the gap. That made it even tougher, but obviously it helps to hold the gap when you have forwards backchecking like they did.
“I guess we could learn from that game. That’s something they do really well.”
With his first period goal on Monday, Avalanche center Matt Duchene tied Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay for the team lead in goals with 13.
The 24-year-old Ontario native has been coming on as of late, accruing seven points (three goals) in his last 10 games—all of which have been in 2015. All three of his tallies have come in the last six contests.
Duchene (28) is tied with Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie for third on the team in points.