The Colorado Avalanche’s ‘Nines Line,’ the top trio for the team, found its mojo again a day after being held off the scoresheet in a 5-3 loss at the hands of the New York Islanders.
Forward Matt Duchene, named the NHL third star for the month of November after putting up 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 14 games, started the scoring off for the Avs, who came out swinging.
The 24-year-old Halliburton, Ontario, native picked up his team-leading 13th marker of the season in the first period when he fired a shot that blasted out of the glove of New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider and into the net.
“That line’s playing really well. I think they really clicked,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after the game. “They played a lot of minutes, and [Duchene is] always around the net. There’s no secret in this game. If you stay outside, it’s hard to score. The quality of goaltenders around the league is too good. You have to be around the net. You have to be in front of the net. And Dutchy has outstanding hands. He’s got beautiful hands, and he’s capable of roofing it from in close. I’m happy for him.”
Netminder Reto Berra assisted on the tally, contributing from the back end while also backstopping Colorado to a 2-1 victory at Prudential Center.
Berra made his 11th start of the 2015-16 season in New Jersey after functioning in a backup capacity for the previous four contests.
“I felt a big responsibility, especially [because] we played last night and I didn’t play. So, I’m fresh, and I wanted to give the team a good chance to win,” the Swiss puck stopper said after the match. “We played a really solid road game. Pucks out, pucks in, and it was a good team effort. The guys helped a lot in front of me, blocking shots [and] all that stuff.”
Shots were on the low side for Berra, who made some key saves but went relatively untested while facing 28 attempts on the night. His play was certainly pivotal in Colorado coming out with the victory though, as the Avalanche came together in all areas to have success.
“I was really in the zone, really goods focus,” Berra said. “Even [though] they had good traffic sometimes and outshot us, I always had somewhere to look. I saw the puck good.”
“He didn’t have to make spectacular saves. He was sharp out there when he had to [be]. I thought he made a couple good ones in the second period on some of our giveaways, but overall it was a solid team performance,” Roy added. “I thought we played a good game, for a back-to-back, for a team what was waiting for us. We had a good start. We played smart hockey, a sound game. I thought we were sharp in every area of the game. We defended well, especially going into the third. Protecting that one-goal lead, I thought we did a good job.”
The Avs were up 2-0 at the conclusion of the second period after Tyson Barrie finished an incredible saucer pass from Jack Skille with an equally impressive and perfectly placed shot that went off of the far post and into the cage.
“I just tried to make it an odd-man rush,” Barrie said. “I saw they had a forward caught, so I tried to jump up. 'Skills' made a great pass, a nice saucer pass. It landed flat, and I just tried to pick a spot.”
In the third, New Jersey countered with the only puck to beat Berra: a twice-deflected wobbler that went in right off of a faceoff draw. After that, try as they might, the Devils just couldn’t crack the Avalanche again.
“They played really well. You’re always curious to see how your team’s going to bounce back after a loss like last night in Brooklyn, and I thought our guys did a good job,” Roy said of his club’s effort. “The defenseman played well in back-to-back games like that. I’m very happy with the performance of our team.”
“This was huge. I thought we played well last game, and we didn’t get the result we wanted,” Barrie added. “This is a huge road trip for us. So this is a massive win for us.”
While the result was the opposite of Monday’s contest, Barrie said he didn’t feel that his squad played much differently on Tuesday.
“I thought we were sharper,” he admitted. “Jersey played well too. They pushed us hard in the third period. They gave us everything we could take there. I thought last night we played well, too. It’s just staying consistent, doing the right things, and we got a better result tonight.
“The thing with us is we know that we’ve played well in some of those games we’ve lost. You’re not going to get the result you want every night, but we’ve got to start finding a way to put two, three, four, five together. It will put us right back in it. We’ve got a positive attitude in here, and we’re going to try and keep that going and stop the win one, lose one kind of thing we got going here.”
Good victories in close games start with the offense, carry through the defense and end with the goaltender. That’s what the Avalanche got in Newark.
“Just a good team win tonight. Obviously, [it would] be nice to keep it rolling, but we need to put a little streak together here,” Duchene said. “We’re kind of win-lose, win-lose right now. We’ve just got to see if we can get a win on Thursday and hopefully one on Saturday too.”
It helps when you have a forward in the midst of the hottest streak of his life.
“I think the big thing is just to not think about it too much, and just to focus on the foundation of your game,” Duchene said of his seemingly unstoppable offensive production. “For me, I’m just focusing on speed and going hard to the net and shooting a lot of pucks. I felt like we maybe could have another one tonight. You’ve got to stay hungry, that’s the biggest thing.”
MITCHELL IS BACK
Avalanche forward John Mitchell returned to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing the previous seven contests with an oblique injury.
Mitchell started the night playing wing alongside center Carl Soderberg and verteran Blake Comeau on the club's second line. Although he hadn't played since Colorado’s 6-1 victory in Montreal on Nov. 14, the 30-year-old forward look solid throughout the night.
He finished the game with two shots, one hit, 12 faceoff draws and 16:34 of ice time.
For the second time this year, Matt Duchene has been recognized for his stellar play during the month of November.
First, he was named the NHL’s first star for his play during the week of Nov. 9-15 after putting up a league-leading eight points (four goals, four assists) in three games. On Tuesday, the 24-year-old forward was honored as the NHL’s third star of the month after he recorded 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 14 matches.
“It feels good. Obviously, that’s something I’ve never been able to do before, be one of the stars of the month. It feels good,” Duchene said before passing credit to linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. “The two guys I’m with, it’s an honor to be amongst those two. I’ve kind of said it all the way along; so much credit goes to my linemates, my teammates. Without those guys, you can’t do it yourself in this league anymore. You need a great supporting cast around you, and that’s definitely something I have right now.”
Duchene’s torrid scoring pace helped him move up the Avalanche’s record books. He now sits 11th in franchise scoring (336 points) and 11th in goals all-time (139).
While accolades are nice, Duchene’s focus is on December and beyond.
“Obviously, my role on the team is to provide offense,” he said. “Things went in pretty good last month, but it’s time to continue on into December and keep helping the team climb back into the playoff race.”
Read more about his outstanding November here.