Maybe no better opponent to do it against than the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Colorado defeated Chicago 5-1 on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center and – at least for the time being – got back on track to keep pace in the Western Conference standings. The Avs were leading the Central Division a week ago but had fallen to fourth entering the game against the Hawks.
“I think we responded well tonight, and it’s one of the best teams in the league that comes in here," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "We responded well. It was a great team effort.”
The season is still early, but the West has proven to be very difficult with eight teams having 30 or more points. The top team in the Eastern Conference (Boston) has 29 points.
The Avs are just about at the quarter-point of the season as Tuesday's game was their 20th contest of the 2013-14 campaign, and the victory over the Blackhawks was a milestone win of sorts for the franchise. With a 15-5-0 record, it marked the club's most wins through 20 games in franchise history.
The previous best was 14 wins through 20 contests in 2000-01 (14-3-3) and 1994-95 (14-4-2).
Head coach Patrick Roy seemed genuinely surprised when hearing of that stat in his postgame news conference.
"I'm surprised to hear that to be honest with you," Roy said. "I guess it’s a surprise, but like I said to everyone [Monday], we're going to take it one day at a time and we're not going to try and look too far. It's pretty jammed pack [in the standings]."
Roy has been preaching for his team to focus on one game at a time all season, and now more than ever it seems that will be key for the Avalanche, because the upcoming weeks won't be easy.
Colorado's next five contests are against Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis and back-to-back games against Minnesota. All four opponents would make the postseason if the playoffs started Wednesday.
Luckily, so would the Avs.
STASTNY STAYS HOT
Paul Stastny had a goal and an assist against Chicago and continued to stamp his name in the franchise's record book.
Stastny's goal came on a wrist shot that beat Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford over the right shoulder. It was his eighth goal of the season and the 143rd of his career. The Colorado center now has sole possession of eighth place on the franchise's all-time goals list, surpassing Dale Hunter.
With 415 career points he also moves past Valeri Kamensky (414) for eighth on the franchise's all-time scoring list.
The Avalanche center has found his scoring touch recently, with seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last seven games and 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in his last 14 games.
BARRIE GOOD NIGHT
During his post-morning skate news conference, Patrick Roy mentioned a few things that he wanted to see from defenseman Tyson Barrie. Two of the points he emphasized were to get shots on net and be smart defensively.
It would hard to be disappointed with Barrie's game Tuesday night, his first since Oct. 27 against Winnipeg.
Barrie made good plays out of Colorado's own zone and made things happen in Chicago's end.
He tied a career high with two points (both assists) and helped solidify the Avs' 5-1 win with a shot from the point that went off Blackhawks netminder Antti Raanta and onto the stick of Cody McLeod, who was set up at the left of the crease and threw the rebound puck into the gaping net.
"It kind of seatbelt me a little bit, but I was able to get it off and get it toward the net," Barrie said of the shot. "I was just trying to put it toward the net, and I got a good bounce and [McLeod] put it in."
Barrie also added three shots and two hits in 18:45 of ice time and was named the game's third star.
"Barrie certainly deserved his star tonight," Roy said.
VARLAMOV SOLID AGAIN
Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves Tuesday for his 10th win of the season and stymied one of the best offenses in the NHL.
Chicago came into the game averaging 3.6 goals per game but could only get one shot past the Russian goalie.
Varlamov faced an onslaught of shots in the first period, but he stopped all 17 pucks he faced in the first 20 minutes to keep the momentum on the Avs' side and help the team build a 3-0 lead.
"He is a key player on our team and he's been outstanding," Roy said afterwards.
The Colorado goalie stopped the first 34 shots he faced until Brandon Saad was able to squeak a shot by him with 7:50 remaining in the game.
Varlamov has now allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts this season.
DUCHENE GOING ON ROAD TRIP
Colorado received some good news Tuesday as Matt Duchene, who missed his first game of the season against Chicago, will be on the upcoming road trip in Phoenix and Los Angeles.
|Matt Duchene |
Duchene injured his oblique during the third period of last Saturday's loss to the Florida Panthers and was going to be out of the lineup at least a week.
Roy said Duchene wouldn't play on Thursday against the Coyotes, but he may get back to skating then and could be ready for game action on Saturday at the Kings.
However, the Avs are going to make sure that Duchene is fully recovered before playing him.
"Matt would love to play in LA, but at the same time it's November," Roy said. "I'm not going to push him. That's what I said to [head athletic trainer Matt Sokolowski], 'Let's makes sure that we don't push him. Make sure when he comes back he is 100 percent.' It's too early in the season to gamble and lose him for a longer period. We're going to be very cautious with him to be honest with you, as we would with other players as well."
Duchene leads the Avalanche in points (20), goals (12), power-play goals (3) and game-winning goals (3) this season.
ROY FACES ANOTHER FORMER COACH
Patrick Roy faced another former coach of his Tuesday tonight in current Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.
Quenneville was an assistant coach for Roy for one season, during the Avs' 1995-96 Stanley Cup championship run. He was hired as the head coach of St. Louis the following season.
"I played for Joel in [1995-96], and that’s the first time I met him, and since that day I have a lot of respect for him," Roy said Monday when reflecting on Quenneville. "I’ve been learning a lot from him. I had no doubt in my mind that he would turn out to be a great NHL coach, and that’s been the case. He’s won two Stanley Cups for Chicago. It’s speaks for itself."
Quenneville is in his sixth season with Chicago after spending three years as the Avs head coach. Roy said he isn't surprised by the success that Quenneville has had in his career behind the bench.
"I think he had it in his blood to become a head coach," Roy said. "Was I surprised to see the success that he has had? The answer is no."
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
-Forward Maxime Talbot picked up his first points in an Avalanche uniform as he assisted on John Mitchell's goal in the first period and Cody McLeod's score in the third. The two assists tied Maxime’s career high, as he also had two helpers on Jan. 29, 2008 at New Jersey and Nov. 5, 2007 New Jersey.
-Gabriel Landeskog's goal in the first period was his 16th point (seven goals, nine assists) in his last 16 games. The Avs captain scored after tipping the shot of Andre Benoit's in the slot.
-Ryan O'Reilly now has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last eight contests.
-The Avalanche’s three first-period goals was the most in an opening period this season…It matched the season high for goals in any period (Oct. 2 vs. Anaheim in 2nd period and Nov. 2 vs. Montreal in 3rd).
-The Avs improved to 13-0-0 when scoring the first goal, the NHL's only unbeaten team when scoring first… Colorado is 11-0-0 when leading after the first period and 13-0-0 when leading after two.