Looking to move closer to Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, the Avalanche did just about everything it could to compete with the club from up North. Yet the 3-1 defeat wasn’t the result the home team was looking for.
Colorado outshot them, outfought them, outhit them, but just couldn’t outscore them.
“We played hard. I think we deserve a little better than that tonight,” said center Matt Duchene. “Had a couple of breakdowns that led to their goals, but other than that I thought we were the better team.
“It’s disappointing. We’re all pretty upset in here. We had a lot of guys that played real hard tonight, the whole team did, and it’s unfortunate not to come out with a better result.”
With a chance to take their destiny into their own hands, the Avs had an uphill battle early after Minnesota’s Erik Haula threaded the puck through netminder Semyon Varlamov like a fine string through the head of a needle, converting a tough-angle tally to take the lead.
Down after the first period of play, Colorado managed to score its first goal against the Wild this season when a bouncy dump-in play off the stick of Maxime Talbot leapt over goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s paddle and into his feet. In a scramble, Dubnyk’s leg—pinching the puck along the ice—slid behind the goal line, resulting in an Avalanche marker after video review.
The even score was short lived, however, as Minnesota potted the next two tallies to take a 3-1 lead. The first came after an Avalanche line change resulted in a successful odd-man rush for the Wild in the middle stanza. The next was on a two-on-one that saw Jason Pominville beat Varlamov from the circle with a well-placed shot in the final frame.
“We played our heart out, out there. We played a solid game. We just felt that we deserved a better result than what we had,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “Unfortunately, we made a few costly mistakes; a bad line change on the second goal, should have put the puck deep on the third one. I guess that’s the type of year we’re going through.”
Despite the result, the Avalanche was happy with the way it performed given that the match was its second in as many nights.
“That’s a good effort, whether it’s a back-to-back or it’s our first game in two or three days,” said Duchene. “We played hard, and we had some good chances. Their goalie came up big, and we had a couple breakdowns that they capitalized on. That was the game.”
“We came out hard. We established a good forecheck, I think, and were playing physical and we got some zone time,” added team captain Gabriel Landeskog. “We got some scoring chances, and we just weren’t able to capitalize on them.
“It’s the second night of a back-to-back, and they’ve been sitting here waiting for us, and we come out and we take charge of the game and they capitalize on a couple breakdowns we had and that’s it after that. I feel like we’re pounding them down, and we’re playing [them] down. We got enough scoring chances to win the game, that’s the bottom line.”
In a game with everything being penalized, one would think that there would have been at least a single power-play goal on the night. There wasn’t. That’s what happens when two masters of the penalty kill collide for 60 minutes.
Even so, Colorado’s inability to convert on any man-advantage chance—including a big 5-on-3 for 1:07—was one thing the club pointed to after the loss.
“I think our power play needs to be better than that. If our power play is better, I think we’ve got a better chance at winning the game,” said Landeskog. “It was a good game. I feel like we had enough chances to win the game, bottom line.”
“It’s a bit of the story of our season. Five-on-five, we’re doing a decent job scoring goals, but tonight the power play had the chance to come through for us,” said Roy. “We had our chances. I thought we moved the puck fairly well, but right now it’s not about having scoring chances or moving the puck fairly well. It’s about putting the puck in the net, and we just don’t do it. Right now it costs us games. It could have been a big difference in tonight’s game.”
Things got chippy in the third period after 19-year-old forward Nathan MacKinnon was caught with a hit that resulted in a broken nose. MacKinnon briefly left the game before returning with a full cage to protect his face.
“You see one of their fourth-line players go take a run at MacKinnon. It’s an elbow, it doesn’t matter what league it is. It’s an elbow straight to the nose, and it breaks his nose. The referees, I don’t know where they’re looking,” said Landeskog. “That’s frustration right there, and then that certainly pisses everybody off in this room when you see that.
“You can say that we took it out the wrong way and got frustrated and didn’t play and didn’t stay focused on the ice, but that’s human nature and that’s the way we react when we see something like that happen.”
The situation came to a head with less than four seconds remaining when Cody McLeod and Charlie Coyle came together for the second fight of the game. McLeod was assessed a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, a five-minute fighting major, and 10-minute misconduct. Coyle was given five minutes for fighting. Landeskog was also slapped with a 10-minute misconduct for an altercation on the Avalanche bench.
“Obviously, it’s something you don’t like to see. I looked at it, and to me it’s clearly a headshot,” Roy said of MacKinnon’s injury. “I don’t understand why there’s no call. Even if you call Toronto, Toronto should have seen that.”
MacKinnon spent the majority of the night playing on the fourth line alongside Marc-Andre Cliche and Paul Carey. The decision to play him down, while moving Cody McLeod to play with Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla, was a design by Roy to create four competitive trios.
“I was just trying to have the best lineup possible, and we thought tonight we needed four good lines to compete against a team that was waiting for us,” said Roy, giving credit for the club’s overall effort on the night. “I’m proud of our players. They competed hard and they battled, and that’s what I asked them to do. And they did it perfectly.”
Unhappy with the outcome, the Avalanche—from top to bottom—believed that the overall game trended in the right direction.
“We didn’t like our Nashville game and we didn’t like our whole Dallas game, but I think we’re going to be happy with what we had tonight,” said Duchene. “We believed that we were going to win tonight. We came out hard and played hard.”
“That was an important game, and we certainly [would have] loved to win that game, but it didn’t happen,” said Roy. “But at the same time, the objective hasn’t changed. We’re going for the same objective, which is 95 points. We’re just going to continue.”
Avalanche center Matt Duchene hit a career milestone on Saturday night, skating in his 400th NHL game. Done all while wearing an Avs sweater, 400 contests isn’t a bad haul for the 24-year-old from Halliburton, Ontario.
“I feel blessed to have played 400 games in this league, but I’m not too worried about that right now. I’m more worried about the games upcoming, and continuing to push,” said Duchene. “This is a blow to us a little bit, but we’ve still got some games left. We’ve just got to make some hay on those.”
With time to reflect when the season is over, Duchene is primarily focused on his club’s late-season push for a postseason berth.
Drafted third overall at the 2009 NHL draft, Duchene debuted with Colorado that year at the ripe age of 18 years old. Since then, the forward has racked up a respectable 304 points (121 goals, 183 assists) all-time, including 16 goals and 25 apples in 62 contests this season.
He entered Saturday’s matchup riding a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists), and has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last 10 matches.