On a night when the team’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene were held off the scoresheet—despite generating 12 of the Avalanche’s 60 shot attempts—the Avs still managed to find a way to come out victorious.
That’s due, in part, to the play of rear guard Francois Beauchemin.
“They had some chances. Both teams could say they had chances tonight,” head coach Patrick Roy said of the top trios after the game. “Sometimes it’s just different players that find ways to score the big goal at the right time. Tonight it was a defenseman.”
Beauchemin tallied not once but twice to give Colorado the lead. The first came just 3:48 into the first period after the veteran D-man charged the blue line to keep possession and then fired a shot through a screen and past goaltender Thomas Greiss and into the netting. That was exactly the kind of start to the match that the home squad had planned on.
The second marker came on a fortuitous bounce as Beauchemin’s centering pass ricocheted off New York’s Mikhail Grabovski and through Greiss for the eventual winning tally.
“It feels great obviously, to get two goals. It doesn’t happen too often for me,” the 35-year old blueliner said. “The first one, I just kept the puck in the zone. Just threw a little wrister at the net [and] it found its way in. At the end, I just happened to get a rebound, I think in the corner, and I just threw it in front with guys there. It hit one of their guys and went in. Some nights that’s the way to go.
“I just threw it there hoping it would hit somebody and go in, which it did. Sometimes you get those bounces.”
At the other end of the ice stood Semyon Varlamov, Colorado’s seemingly unbeatable netminder. Varlamov won his fifth straight start to power the Avs to their fourth consecutive victory. The Avalanche is now in the midst of its longest win streak since March 25-April 5, 2014 (six games).
“When we made those turnovers and mistakes, Varly was there again to keep us in it and give us a chance to win,” said Beauchemin. “Some nights, that’s just what you need. You need your goalie to be hot, and [we got] that lucky bounce at the end.”
“It feels really good. I’m not going to lie, it feels really good,” Varlamov said of the stretch. “We have a streak going now, and I hope we’re going to continue to do the same thing because the guys work really hard right now. I mean, they’ve always been working hard, but right now I think everybody’s really focusing. We’re battling. I feel this team is really, really battling, like every game.”
Despite the 26-year-old Russian puck-stopping machine boasting a 6-1-0 record, a 1.13 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage in the month of December, Varlamov isn’t ready to sit back and ride the coattails of recent success.
“I feel like we have lots of work [to do],” he said. “I don’t want to talk about like if I have confidence or if I’m confident or not confident. We still have lots of work to do.”
Roy echoed the sentiment but also said that he’s happy with the direction the club is trending.
“You can’t look at game 82. We are where we are right now,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re satisfied, but if you’re looking at the circumstance, we’re happy with the performance of the team lately. To be at the .500 mark is something that needed a good run, and that’s the run we’re having right now.”
Breaking even in wins and losses for the first time since the first month of the 2015-16 campaign is a sweet feeling for the club, which fought tooth and nail to overcome a tough start in October and an up and down November.
“It wasn’t an easy start, and it was not easy to make them believe that we were going in the right direction,” Roy said of motivating his team. “That’s the toughest sell to these guys. Many times we said it, and probably people were laughing at us when we were saying that we were heading the right direction, but now winning those games proves it. I think what we’ve been doing was the right thing.
“It could have been very easy for us as an organization, and even as coaches, to panic, but instead we stuck to the program and our structure and just encouraged the players to continue to work hard and believe in themselves. The road trip was probably a turnaround in our season, obviously with the quality of goaltending we had. Varly was phenomenal again tonight. He made some big saves at the right times.”
Colorado has battled to improve and now sits three points behind the Nashville Predators for fifth place in the Central Division and, more importantly, a playoff berth.
With the halfway point of the season approaching swiftly, every win and every point carries much more significance.
“Not only are we [at] the .500 mark, which is something that we’re happy about right now as of today, [but] we’re having a good month of December, 7-2,” Roy said. “I think it’s important for us to continue to play that way and be ready for Edmonton [on Saturday]. Our guys are sharp right now. We’re playing some good hockey, and this is a very good hockey team. Tonight, I thought it was a good challenge for our club, and I really feel that we showed a lot of character.”
One reason the Avs have been able to conquer some of the best clubs in the entire NHL is due to simplification in the important areas of the game. It started on the road in New York and is still paying off now.
“I think we played simple today. We played very solid defensively, that’s the most important thing for us,” Varlamov said. “Everything comes from defense. If we’re playing solid defensive games, we’re going to get success.”
What does a simple game look like?
“The first 10 minutes or whatever, if you don’t have anything, chip it out at both blue lines,” John Mitchell said. “Chip it out of your zone, and if then you don’t have anything entering their zone you’ve just got to chip it in and you have to get on the forecheck. That’s why it’s a part of the game. You can get those pucks back, and you want to make…it a long night for [the ‘D’]. You chip those pucks in. You go and hit those ‘D.’ You know it’s going to wear on them over the course of the game. Just getting hit over and over and over again, it’ll do things to the D-corps for sure.”
Toss in a little bit of luck and you have a solid fourth consecutive victory for the Burgundy and Blue.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, that was a really good team out there,” Beauchemin said. “They’re one [of the] top team’s of the East and the league. We struggled in the second a little bit. Varly was there. But in the third, I thought we came out really good, had some good looks, and I got a good bounce.”
Said Roy: “Character. To me, that’s the word I have in mind right now. I really feel that our guys have shown character out there. It would be easy to be satisfied after those three wins, and I thought that we came back and played a strong game. I think we were very determined to play well in front of our fans and play a good game, and I think that’s what our guys did.”