The Colorado Avalanche entered Thursday’s game at the Ottawa Senators having scored just two goals in each of the last two games. The power play was 0-for-13 and there were questions about the potency of the offense that, on paper, looks to be among the most lethal in the league.
Add to that the fact that starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov was place on injured reserve just hours before the drop of the puck and the deck certainly seemed stacked against the Avs. Yet just like last season when the Avalanche was faced with adversity, the team put its head down and went to work.
The Avalanche, feeling the pressure, came out swinging in the first period, taking control of a game that looked to be its from the get go. Veteran forward Alex Tanguay got the Avs on the scoreboard less than a minute and a half into the contest, burying the puck behind Craig Anderson after catching a fantastic feather pass from Nathan MacKinnon in the corner. Up 1-0 in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Avalanche was riding high early.
Just over a minute later, Senators center Kyle Turris was driven into Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra, knocking Berra from the contest with an injury. This opened the door for Calvin Pickard’s NHL debut.
When the day started, Pickard was preparing for a game in Chicago with the Lake Erie Monsters. Hours later he’s standing in net as the Senators are barreling down on him, scrambling to make big saves at the highest level of the sport.
“I think that’s a tough bounce, obviously, but I think for us, we know what position we’re in, and we’ve got a good opportunity here on the road,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said during an interview after the first period. “Started with two good road (games) I think and we didn’t want to let anything bother us here at the start of the first and we kept on going and here we are.”
When asked what advice the players had for Pickard after the first period, Landeskog said the team didn’t want to offer too much for the young netminder to take in.
“You’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to say too much,” Landeskog said. “You don’t want to put too many things in his head and you don’t want to get it spinning too much, but we know he’s a good goalie and he’s here for a reason. So I guess that’s what we tell him and just go out there and do his thing.”
With the pressure on, the Avalanche increased its lead when John Mitchell—playing in his season debut with the Avs—poked a loose puck past pinching Senators captain Erik Karlsson for a breakaway chance on Anderson. Mitchell finished with a backhander, his shorthanded goal putting Colorado up 2-0.
“I just chipped it past Karlsson. It was kind of a 50-50 and he didn’t know what he was going to be able to do,” said Mitchell. “I just tried to skate as hard as I could and do a quick cut to the left and shoot it as fast as I could. Obviously I got pretty fortunate with it bouncing off the post and off of the back of Anderson and in.”
The Senators countered with a score of their own in the first, a lucky strike from Zack Smith, who buried a wobbling puck in the crease after a shot from Curtis Lazar caromed up and over Pickard and into the blue paint behind the 22-year-old netminder.
Before the first 20 minutes elapsed, the Avalanche also managed to put away a power-play goal from Gabriel Landeskog in the slot, taking a 3-1 lead into intermission.
had two primary assists in the first—on Tanguay’s and Landeskog’s tallies—flashing that quick thinking ability that led him to the Calder Trophy during his first season in the league.
The game unraveled for the Avs after that with Ottawa scoring four unanswered goals—including a power-play tally and an empty netter—to take a 5-3 victory over Colorado.
“We cannot be happy with our game overall because, with the lead, we had 13 turnovers. If we do turnovers when you’re up by one goal, eventually the puck’s going to end up in the net,” said head coach Patrick Roy after the contest. “And we can blame it on the 22-year-old goalie, but hey, we have to be better with the lead. We have to be a lot smarter than that.
“I didn’t (think) we managed our game very well.”
Roy was quick to defend his young netminder after the game.
“It was a tough situation for him as well. He was coming from Cleveland this afternoon, got in at what 4:00 or 4:30,” the coach said. “It’s not an ideal situation for him.”
John Mitchell was cleared to play Thursday morning and played well in his first match back, scoring a big short-handed goal. Mitchell missed the first four Avalanche games this season with migraines.
Defenseman Ryan Wilson was also cleared to resume playing Thursday morning. Wilson took a puck to the head during Colorado’s 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday afternoon, leaving the game before the start of the second frame. Wilson did not play in Colorado’s 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto on Tuesday. He was a healthy scratch on Thursday.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was placed on IR prior to the start of the game.