Coming off a homestand that saw the Avalanche post a 0-3-1 record, starting this trip off on the right skate was paramount.
The Avs got on the board fast and furious and first, which proved to be key. Power plays and man advantages ruled supreme on the night, and the visiting club recorded three consecutive markers on three separate extra-skater opportunities.
“It seems to me on the road, we’re more focused, and tonight I thought we played a good game. We had a good start, and our power play was moving the puck very well,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “It’s not very often you’re going to see four power-play goals like it happened in the second period, but it was the story of the game until the third period. But I thought we defended well. We were quick on them, and our forecheck was very good. I was very pleased with the performance of our team.”
Colorado entered the night having fallen to 13th in the NHL in power-play success (19-percent conversion rate) after going a mere 4-for-37 on the man-advantage in the previous 14 games. Yet, Ottawa’s last place penalty kill (74.9 percent) played a major role in the Avalanche victory.
The Avs went nuts on their first chance, ripping 15 shots toward the net before veteran Jarome Iginla fired one past a scrambling Andrew Hammond.
“We had some good chances at home, but we didn’t bury them. We know the power play’s a big part of the game, and tonight I thought right from the bat we were shooting. I was getting some great passes,” Iginla said following the match. “I thought we also got a lot of those pucks back after shooting it, for the second shots after. They were a little bit tired. We got some good breaks, but I thought the guys were sharp and bouncing and all over it.”
Speedster Nathan MacKinnon found himself on the scoresheet after his own man-advantage chance nipped twine in the second stanza, and Iginla netted his 15th of the season shortly after to give the Avalanche a 3-0 lead.
“He had two from the flank. The second one was sick, he pounded that one in,” said MacKinnon, lauding Iginla’s effort before talking about his own tally. “Obviously, good puck movement with Carl, good luck to me off the rush. I think they changed. I’m lucky to get one.
“They had not the best change, and my eyes lit up, for sure. Those looks are tough to get sometimes, especially on the power play.”
“He had great shots on that power-play goal, the second one he scored tonight,” Roy said of Iginla. “I thought he played well. He was moving and he was reading plays really well, and he had a strong game.”
The Senators answered back with two extra-man markers of their own, making that five straight power-play goals and four in the middle frame.
In the third period, Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov let loose and turned aside 11 shots to hold onto the lead for the win.
“It feels good. It was a total team [effort],” Iginla said of the triumph. “We got off to a great start, power play was going, but then they came back. We had the power plays early, they got them later and they took advantage of it. To be able to hold that third period, that was a really good road period for us. We played really smart, Varly was great.”
“Varly said, ‘Let me see the puck and it will be fine,’” Roy said of the goalie’s performance following Ottawa’s second marker.
Varlamov is expected to start Friday’s back-to-back contest at the Detroit Red Wings as well.
“I’m going to go probably with Varly, but I’m going to make my decision after talking to Varly, see how he feels,” said Roy. “If he’s ready to go; I’d say probably right now it’s an 80-percent chance that it will be Varly.”
The Avs are now 8-3-0 in their last 10 road games and own a 16-12-0 road record for the year. They play four of their next five on the road after playing 17 of their last 24 at home.
“Trust me, we want to play better at home, and we know we haven’t been very good at home the last few games. But we’ve got to make up for it on the road here,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “Just getting to be around your teammates is a lot of fun, and maybe that’s just part of the reason we’ve been a little more successful than we have been in the past on the road. Hopefully it continues.”
The Avalanche debuted new line combinations to start Thursday’s match in Ottawa, and coach Roy said he was happy with the result. Nathan MacKinnon began the game with Alex Tanguay and Cody McLeod, and Matt Duchene and Mikhail Grigorenko were paired with John Mitchell.
“I just thought that sometimes trying things differently helps guys, and it was the case tonight,” Roy said. “[MacKinnon] likes to play with Tangs, and I feel that a guy like Cody—he goes to the net, plays hard, plays well defensively—creates more space for him. And Dutchy and Mitchy had some good moments together, and Grigorenko is playing very well.”
The only trio that remained intact was the highly productive combination of Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Soderberg, and Blake Comeau. They finished the game with five points (one goal, four assists), eight shots and five hits.
On top of the adjustments, Roy said he more evenly distributed ice time, running all four lines for the duration of the night, in order to keep everyone as fresh as possible for Friday’s game in Detroit.
“I thought that it was important to play the four lines, and that’s what we did,” Roy said. “I mean 5-on-5, everybody played pretty much the same. We have no player [who] played under 10 minutes as a forward. I thought it was the best way for us to play that game.”
Iginla, who turned 38 over the summer, said the key to Colorado’s 5-2-0 record in the second game of a back-to-back set is the youthful exuberance of the younger players on the roster.
“I think it’s a good, young group,” he offered. “I think that the high altitude helps in Colorado. The guys are in shape. Young legs.”
One scary moment in the victory was when a hard shot from the point ricochetted off of alternate captain Cody McLeod’s stick and into his face. McLeod briefly left the game but returned as determined as ever.
“Everybody knows Cody McLeod is a warrior,” Roy said. “You know he’s not going to miss very long.”