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Avs Continue To Trend In Right Direction

Colorado and Pittsburgh traded scoring chances throughout the game

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The result wasn't what the Colorado Avalanche wanted, but how it played against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night is yet another reason why the team is heading the right way.

Colorado went chance for chance with the defending Stanley Cup champions but lost 4-1 at Pepsi Center. Pittsburgh finished with only a two shots-on-goal advantage (30-28), while the Avs held a hefty 63-47 edge in overall shot attempts.

The difference was that the Penguins were able to take advantage of their opportunities while the Avalanche couldn't.

"It's a game of mistakes, we dug in and covered up a few of them," said Avs head coach Jared Bednar. "[Goaltender Calvin Pickard] made some saves when we needed him, too. At the other end, we just didn't quite capitalize on our chances, especially in the first half in the game where we could have tightened that score or even taken the lead."

The net's iron was not Colorado's friend in the club's final contest of an overall successful 2-1-0 homestand. Of the Avalanche's 19 missed shots, four of them went off the post early in the game. If some of those attempts went in, the entire dynamic of the game could have changed.

"I think even when it was a one-goal hockey game, we had enough scoring chances to get on top and win this one," said Gabriel Landeskog. "Either [Pittsburgh goalie Matt] Murray makes a big stop or we ring it off the post or whatever."

Video: Landeskog on the 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh

Nathan MacKinnon was stuffed by the pipes three times, including on a breakaway seven minutes into the middle frame in a 2-0 game.

"It's a game of millimeters," MacKinnon noted. "That's just the way it went tonight, but obviously they're a really good team. They're fast, and they won the Cup for a reason last year."

Pittsburgh opened the scoring 4:01 into the contest as Phil Kessel's shot on a rush just got between Pickard's pads. The Penguins then made it 2-0 early in the second period as the puck squeaked out from the corner to Patric Hornqvist in front and the ensuing shot just found space by Pickard's pads and the post. Hornqvist picked up his second later in the stanza off a rebound in the slot.

The Avalanche wasn't as fortunate in getting pucks past Murray despite several other quality looks that didn't hit the pipe.

Mikko Rantanen was inches off of an open net in the first frame, John Mitchell couldn't bury the puck in front in the third while Landeskog was feeling it throughout the outing. The Colorado captain made nice drives to the net but couldn't score until 3:16 remained in the contest.

Landeskog's late marker and the Avs' no-quit attitude in the third period were positives for Bednar as the team now heads out on a season-long five-game road trip that begins Saturday at the New York Rangers.

"To continue to fight back and believe that we still had a chance to win even at 3-0, that's what I was feeling on our bench, which is a good thing because we haven't always had that," Bednar said.

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

Colorado opened up the homestand with a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and followed that up with a 4-0 victory on Tuesday versus the Montreal Canadiens. The Avs played solid defensively in both contests while getting offensive contributions throughout their lineup.

Despite the effort being the same on Thursday, Landeskog said the club can't get down on itself just because it didn't win in the end.

"We want to carry that momentum," said Landeskog. "For the most part, we've been playing with four lines and everybody has been contributing. I think the biggest thing is that we don't get down on ourselves or get discouraged by the score in this one. I haven't seen what the scoring chances have been yet, but we want to get back on the road and spend some quality time with the guys and do some damage."

POWER PLAY GETS GOING

Some of the Avs' lack of offense this year has come from their shortcomings on the power play. They entered Thursday's contest ranked 29th in the man advantage, converting on only 14.6 percent of their chances.

However, things are starting to turn for Colorado as Landeskog's late tally came on the power play and marked the third-straight game in which the team has scored with an extra man.

"We couldn't be that bad forever," MacKinnon said. "We were in a slump, and we changed up some units to be more aggressive. It's good that we found the back of the net."

Scoring with the man advantage can help breed confidence in the offense at even strength, and the team had that during the homestand. The Avalanche scored 10 goals in three games, not necessarily eye-popping numbers but an improvement from how it had played previously. It was outscored 10-1 on a two-game California trip last week.

"With our team, in order to produce enough offense to win we need the power play going," Bednar said. "I think that is trending over the last little short term in the right direction. We've been doing some good things."

MARTINSEN HITS CENTURY MARK

Forward Andreas Martinsen appeared in his 100th NHL contest on Thursday night, all of which have come in an Avalanche uniform.

Martinsen, who made his debut in the league on Nov. 10, 2015 at Philadelphia, is just the eighth Norwegian-born player to compete in the NHL and is one of two active players from the country along with Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers.

The left wing is the fifth Norway skater to hit the century mark in games played and is six contests behind Patrick Thoresen for fourth place on the list. Zuccarello is the leader with 357 contests.

Martinsen entered the night leading all Avalanche forwards in hits with 118. He has three goals and two assists through 45 outings.

NIETO PLAYS

Matt Nieto was absent from practice on Wednesday after taking a puck to the leg in Tuesday night's win, but he was back in the lineup for the contest versus the Pens.

The puck that caromed off the Long Beach, California, native's leg in the third period didn't just come from the stick of any player, however, but that of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot contest at last month's All-Star skills competition with a blast of 102.8 miles per hour.

Nieto skated Thursday morning and felt good enough to play later that night. He missed the previous day's practice because of soreness, which is a lot better than suffering a broken bone like defenseman Erik Johnson did when he was hit by a shot from Dallas' Tyler Seguin on Dec. 3.

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