It seemed to be working out when Mikhail Grigorenko, who was moved to the wing alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene, converted on an early power play. After that, the same inconsistent play that has brought the Avs recent losses returned in full force.
Winnipeg scored the next three tallies, and despite a Matt Duchene marker in the second period, controlled the game for nearly the duration of the 4-2 Avalanche loss.
“We just didn’t play good enough. That’s the bottom line,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the contest. “For some reason, we weren’t ready when the puck dropped and those guys were. There’s no excuses for that. Even though we made it a one-goal game, it felt like it was going to have to be an ugly one. We didn’t feel like we necessarily deserved to win after two, but we were still in the game. It was a one-goal game, but we just couldn’t find a way in the third.”
The disappointment after the contest wasn’t because Winnipeg entered the evening at the bottom of the Western Conference, and it wasn’t because Colorado had a tough night.
“Since the All-Star break, we haven’t played a good game,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “We’re not sharp, and it’s too bad because it comes at the wrong moment. We put ourselves in a playoff spot, and we had a chance—three games at home coming back—we had a chance to start where we left [off]. We should be disappointed right now.
“We cannot be happy about the way we’ve been playing, the last three games. Yeah, we scored the first goal, and then after that they just took the play away from us. We didn’t start the second period very well. Thank God Varly made some good saves, but we’re making right now too many mistakes.”
With 27 games left in the season, the final push is paramount if the Avalanche is going to have any chance at prolonging the year. Every point carries the utmost significance and none can be haphazardly cast aside.
“I could come with 100, 1,500 excuses, but we’re not playing well enough right now,” said Roy. “We don’t deserve to win those hockey games.”
Finding a spark was the reason for Saturday’s roster remix, and when Roy said he was looking for a catalyst to ignite his squad, he was hoping that Colorado’s young core would find a way to get going.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, [Erik Johnson], [Tyson Barrie], they have to carry our defense. Nathan [MacKinnon], Dutchy, Landy, they’ve got to carry the offense. They are the heart of this team,” Roy said after the game. “These are the guys that have got to decide how far this team is going to go. These are the guys—with [Semyon Varlamov], obviously—they’re going to decide if we’re going to make the playoffs or not.
“They’re the leaders of this team. Some are talking in the room, some it’s more on the ice, but they are the leaders of this team. They’re the ones who have to take charge and turn this thing around. They’re lucky. They have good vets around them, supporting them, but obviously they need to be the ones who push the pace night after night.”
The time is now for the Avs to find a solution to their sudden downturn in play, but it’s not an easy fix.
“It’s tough to pinpoint really what it is. There’s a number of things,” Landeskog said. “I feel like we’re too slow in the D-zone; we’re spending too much time in our own zone. And once we do get the puck, we just don’t make strong enough plays. We just don’t support each other enough, and we’re playing on our own a little too much. You’re not going to beat any team like that.”
Added MacKinnon: “We’re trying to work on our D-zone. It’s been pretty unacceptable lately. We’re pretty slow on pucks. We don’t close on guys quick enough. We watch. I watch. I’m not going to talk about the other guys. I watch out there. I’ve been pretty bad defensively. I’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure it out.”
Any silver lining to the Central Division loss can be found in the penalty summary on the official game sheet. Fed up, the Avalanche stopped putting up with the rough-and-tumble kind of physical game that Winnipeg emits. With 68 penalty minutes between the clubs when the dust settled, it was obvious the Avs were fighting back.
“The thing that I would say though, at the end at least we saw some spark,” said Roy. “I saw guys that were upset, and you want us to be under control, of course, but at the same time we showed some emotion. We need to bring it in our next game at home against Vancouver on Tuesday night.”
THE CENTURY CLUB
After his first-period fisticuffs with Jets forward Chris Thorburn, Avalanche veteran and alternate captain Cody McLeod solidified himself in the upper echelon of the franchise record books. Not only did the 31-year-old wing top 100 penalty minutes on the season, his five-minute fighting major in the first period made him the only player in the Colorado/Quebec organization to have eight-straight seasons with 100 or more penalty minutes under his belt.
In the midst of his ninth season with the Avs, McLeod has had just a single campaign—the shortened one of 2012-13—with less than the century mark. He had 83 in just 48 games.
The most McLeod has registered in a single campaign is the 191 minutes he accrued just last year.
He was previously tied with Steve Finn, Dale Hunter and Randy Moller at seven consecutive seasons of 100 or more minutes.
Signed by the Avalanche as a free agent on July 6, 2006, McLeod has spent his entire NHL career with the Avs. He recently topped 600 games in a burgundy and blue sweater—tonight was No. 604—and has recorded 114 points (64 goals, 50 assists) during that time.