Just like when he moved veteran Jarome Iginla onto a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay, Roy’s adjustment to put Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Carl Soderberg together almost immediately began paying dividends.
Following Tuesday’s 6-3 win at Pepsi Center, Roy’s squad has now put up nine goals in the past two games, and contributions have come from all areas of the ice.
One player to see instant returns from the changes is forward Matt Duchene, who has two goals and an assist in his last two games after posting a goal and an assist through his first 10 contests.
“It feels good, but I think the biggest thing is I’d trade both of them in just to keep that win, for sure. I think we needed that one,” Duchene said following the victory. “We’ve been working really hard and going through a lot of stuff. We’ve got a lot of character in this room, a lot of fight, and I think tonight we showed it. They tie it up, and it’s like deja vu again. We’re sitting on the bench and kind of shaking our heads, but we buckled down and made sure that we got this one tonight. It feels great.”
The two Swedes playing alongside Duchene have also started to come together offensively. The 30-year-old Soderberg has two points (one goal, one assist) in his past three games and Colorado’s captain has four helpers in his last three contests.
“That line had a good night,” Roy said of the pairing. “They had to play against [Calgary’s] top line, and despite that I thought they had a lot of shots on net. They played a sound game, and I thought they were solid.”
“We’re going,” Duchene said of his line’s success. “Last game we felt like we were right there. I think we had 10 of our team’s 26 shots last game, and tonight I think Gabe and I had six each. We’ve got to keep putting pucks on the net. We keep doing that and driving the net and playing smart hockey, it will go in. The more we play together, the better the chemistry is going to get.”
MacKinnon’s trio is proof of that, as the three of them haven’t cooled off either. The 20-year-old center himself has six points (two goals, four assists) in his previous four games, which includes the game-winning marker in each of the Avalanche’s most recent wins. The veteran Iginla also has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last four contests, and the 35-year-old Tanguay has contributed three points (two goals, one assist) to his line’s output in the same period of time.
“We looked good,” MacKinnon said. “I thought all four lines played very well tonight. Our top-six was good as well. Two goals from that line, three from ours, I think. It’s what we’re going to need; our best players need to be our best if we’re going to get the season going and get some more wins.”
While October didn’t really go the way the club had hoped it would, MacKinnon said there’s plenty of time left to turn the ship around.
“We’ve got four wins under our belt now,” he said. “We hit the reset button on the season. We’ve got 70 more to play solid hockey and see where we’re at. Obviously, it’s only 12 games in, so we’re not going to hit the panic button quite yet. Some initiative needed to be taken, [and] I thought everybody stepped up tonight.”
MacKinnon is right about that; everyone did step up in Tuesday’s win. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov turned aside 22 shots, and the Avalanche saw contributions from all areas of the ice and during all game-situations.
“Really good to kind of open the flood gates and get some goals,” rear guard Erik Johnson said. “To get a win is a great feeling. We haven’t had too many this year, so we want to build off that and continue to keep playing like we have been the last three periods.”
Defensive contributions—at both ends of the ice—were key on Tuesday, and there wasn’t a Colorado goal scored that didn’t include an assist from a defensman. All six Avs tallies came with help from the back end, and four blueliners—Nick Holden (one assist), Tyson Barrie (three assists), Francois Beauchemin (two assists) and Johnson (one goal, one assist)—ended up on the scoresheet.
“It helps the forwards out for sure,” Johnson said of the assistance from the D-men. “Me and Beauch were saying it was kind of funny. We didn’t have our best game tonight, and we still popped in a couple points. So it’s kind of funny how that works, where you’re not having a great night and you still find a way to put the puck in the net or create chances and get the win. We’ll take it. There’s no better feeling than winning, so this is great.”
On top of of those niceties, the Avs finished the evening with a power play marker, a short-handed goal and four even-strength tallies—one of which was into the empty net.
“It’s nice. The last couple of games, the last handful of games, it’s like one thing was going,” Johnson said. “The power play was going, the penalty kill wasn’t. The penalty kill was going, the power play wasn’t. Five-on-five was going, something else wasn’t going. Hopefully this is kind of a stepping stone where we put everything together. We scored on the power play. The penalty kill was good, we killed those. Scored 5-on-5.
“To have everything kind of go right is a good feeling. We want to continue that going forward. We know every night, everything’s not going to be perfect… So to have everything go right and get a win, it’s big. We need these points going forward.”
Perhaps the biggest victory on the evening for the Avalanche was the emergence of the killer instinct when the game was on the line. After Mark Giordano scored 7:34 into the third period to tie the contest, the Avs found themselves standing at a crossroad. They could bend, as they’ve done recently, or they could take control of the game and finish it off with fervor.
The club did the latter, and it made all the difference when the final horn sounded.
“Just a really good feeling. Winning is the best feeling in the world, and that’s why we play the game,” Johnson said. “To be able to get two points and get us feeling good about ourselves and hopefully keep this moving forward here is big for our confidence and hopefully gives us some momentum.”
“Early in the period, we were on our heels, and I think that’s why we allowed the goal,” Duchene added. “I think after they scored, it was almost like ‘Okay, we’ve got to get another one to win.’ You look at the winning goal by Nate. Obviously a great shot, but what a battle by Iggy on the wall. He made an unbelievable battle and then makes an unbelievable pass to [MacKinnon] for a one-timer. That’s the kind of hockey we’re capable of, and we want to take that forward.”
That effort, holding strong when the game is on the line and finishing hungry and tenacious, is exactly what Roy has been looking for.
“Tonight, it was fun to see us playing some good hockey and win the game at the same time,” Roy said. “I was very happy to see us scoring goals offensively. Despite the fact that we had a couple bad pinches in the second, I thought we defended well. We kept them what, below 25 shots? It’s good for us. I thought we had a good mix.
“I thought it was a solid team effort.”
HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER
Tuesday night was the Avalanche’s annual Hockey Fights Cancer event at Pepsi Center, and the evening did not disappoint.
The big victory was supplemented with a variety of things to highlight the NHL/NHLPA’s initiative, including lavender lightning in the Grand Atrium of the arena; unique Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys that were worn during warmup and will be auctioned off to benefit fund cancer research; special guests Patrick, a seven-year-old who is undergoing treatment for Leukemia, Owen, a four-year-old who is undergoing chemotherapy for Leukemia and Adam, a 21-year-old who was diagnosed with Angiosarcoma in February; and a check presentation ceremony that saw $2,500 donated to both Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation and Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation in support of activities and programs for pediatric cancer patients.
The annual night is always something special for both players and fans, and Tuesday’s iteration was no different.
“It’s tough for all,” Carl Soderberg said. “I had it in my family, and [the support] means a lot to all of us.”
“I have friends who’ve been affected,” fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog added before the game. “[Cancer is] everywhere nowadays, unfortunately, and we all know somebody that’s been affected. This will be a big night for awareness and to support those people that have been affected.
“It’s great to really pay tribute to those who have lost family and friends to cancer.”
Colorado kicked off Hockey Fights Cancer with a private skate at Pepsi Center on Oct. 22, inviting only families and kids dealing with the disease to come out and enjoy some time on the ice.