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Defensive Breakdowns Hurt Avalanche

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Breakdowns in the defensive zone doomed the Colorado Avalanche for the second consecutive game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a strong first period and continued the play for the remaining 40 minutes Tuesday night in a 4-0 win over the Avs at Pepsi Center.

"We didn't have a good start. We had some breakdowns in our own zone, and they seemed to have their game tonight. They had their A-game," said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy. "We didn't have any swagger, that is for sure."

Despite holding a 15-9 shot advantage, the Lightning was only up 1-0 after the first period. However, the visitors used the momentum from the opening stanza to score twice in the first 5:16 of the second for a sturdy 3-0 lead.

"We didn't have a good first. We had to find a way to win in ugly fashion and win by just grinding it out," said captain Gabriel Landeskog. "Then they get two and three and all of a sudden it's 3-0. That's when it gets away from us, and that's when we start playing on our own; we don't stick together and things like that."

Colorado also fell down by three goals on Sunday in Chicago. The Avs did tally twice in the second period in that contest to make the score 3-2, but they eventually lost 6-3.

The Avalanche is in a stretch where it plays every other night for 23 days.

"We know we have to be better, that's all. I guess with the schedule, everybody is going to have some off nights and tonight we had one," Roy said. "We were playing against a team that has a lot of depth. It's a good lineup on the other side. It's a very good hockey club, and tonight they were skating well and it seemed that we were a bit behind at times. Certainly, it was not enough."

Earlier in the day, Roy noted that the team needed to get back to how it was playing defensively just last week when it picked up wins against quality clubs like Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. He reiterated that statement postgame.

"The reason why we had a chance to win and we won some games [previously] is because we played well defensively, and we just got away from that," he said. "We were not first on loose pucks."

Landeskog said Colorado's effort was there, but agreed with his coach that Tampa won too many battles.

"They were just beating us to every loose puck," Landeskog said. "They were outworking us. I don't want to say that we were outcompeted because I do think that everyone in here competes on a nightly basis and everyone in here takes pride in working hard and doing our job."

The Bolts won the shot battle 38-21, and Roy said goaltender Semyon Varlamov's play helped keep the Avs in the contest, especially in the opening stanza.

"I thought he had a good game tonight," Roy said of his netminder. "We didn't help him. We were not good defensively."

Tampa Bay took advantage of the chances that it was given. Ondrej Palat scored on a nice rebound midway through the first period, and Steven Stamkos recorded two goals in the second after receiving passes from teammates while open. Tyler Johnson closed the scoring with his fifth goal of the season at 11:55 of the third frame.

"They skated well," said Alex Tanguay of the Bolts. "They move the puck extremely well. They created chances. They fed off the power play. They scored one there [after a power play just expired]. It was just one of those games where we did not play good enough.

"We didn't create any momentum, and we couldn't find ways to get back into the game. It is a very frustrating game. These points are very important at home. We've been fighting extremely hard to get ourselves back in that race and back into a position to be in the playoffs, looking in. No excuse for tonight."

Despite the defeat, several Central Division teams around the Avs also fell. Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg all lost, so Colorado remains in the same position as it began the night—tied with the Predators for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche now turns its focus to Thursday night and the New Jersey Devils as it looks to find a way through this rough patch.

"When bounces aren't going your way, when things aren't going your way, we have to stick together. We have to stick together as a team," Landeskog said. "We win as a team. We lose as a team, and that's the way it has to be."

IGINLA HONORED

Prior to puck drop, the Avalanche organization honored forward Jarome Iginla for scoring 600 career NHL goals.

Iginla, who tallied No. 600 on Nov. 4 against Los Angeles, was joined on the ice by his wife Kara, daughter Jade, and sons Tij and Joe for the special ceremony.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered flowers to Kara, while longtime teammate Alex Tanguay gave Iginla a plaque that contained the puck he scored his milestone marker with and photos from the game. Colorado executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic presented Iginla a silver stick on behalf of the organization to commemorate the event.

The Edmonton, Alberta, became the 19th player in league history to score 600 goals and the third to do it with the Avalanche. Jari Kurri (Dec. 23, 1997) and Joe Sakic (Feb. 15, 2007) also registered the momentous tally in a Colorado sweater.

INJURY UPDATES

Erik Johnson is making progress in his recovery from a lower-body injury as the big minutes-eating defenseman skated for the first time on Tuesday morning since getting hurt.

"Today was his first time on the ice, progress there," Roy said of Johnson on Tuesday morning. "We'll know more the more he's going to be on the ice."

Johnson was injured Jan. 4 versus Los Angeles and the original diagnosis had him out 5-12 days. As of now, he appears to still be on that timetable.

Fellow rear guard Brad Stuart continues to skate as he rehabs from a back injury, but there is no set return date for him yet. He is still on injured reserve, and Roy said he's taking a day-to-day approach with the 36-year-old.

"He said he had a great day yesterday, but to me it's one day at a time," Roy said. "When you have a back injury and it goes to his leg, some days are good, some days are not. I thought last week he was progressing really well, and then he had a bit of a setback. Hopefully, he'll be OK to play eventually."

Stuart has only played six games this season, the last coming on Nov. 10 at Philadelphia.

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