Despite Darcy Tucker’s 199th career tally and a few fresh faces in the lineup, the Avalanche fell to Northwest Division rival Minnesota by a 3-1 count Thursday night at Pepsi Center.
Tonight’s contest was the first in a stretch where the Avalanche will play five of six games within the division. After hosting Nashville on Saturday, the Avs will take to the road for contests at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary before returning to Denver to finish off a home-and-home set with the Flames.
Tucker and his teammates know that if they want to keep pace during this key stretch of games, they can’t fall behind early. Unfortunately, for the seventh time in eight games the Avalanche failed to score the first goal of the contest.
“For us, a little bit better start in the hockey game would give us the opportunity to maybe only be down a goal. Then when we do start playing like we did in the second and third, then we’re right there still,” said Tucker. “We did some good things, we just can’t fall behind the way we did early in this hockey game.”
The visitors jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Benoit Pouliot.
Bouchard tucked in his own rebound 3:35 into the contest, while Pouliot made it a two-goal game at 7:44 after depositing the rebound of a Marek Zidlicky point shot with the Wild on the power play.
Former Av Andrew Brunette made it a 3-0 game at the 9:56 mark of the second period on a goal from the doorstep, but Tucker put Colorado on the scoreboard with his second goal of the season minutes later. T.J. Hensick gained the primary assist after streaking up the left wing and making a pass through traffic to Tucker in front of the net. The 13-year vet couldn’t convert the initial feed, but knocked home a loose puck at 12:18.
The Avalanche dominated the third period, out-shooting the Wild by a 12-4 count, but couldn’t solve Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom.Lineup Changes
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic (back) was held out of tonight’s game. Sakic left Wednesday’s practice early after feeling some tightness in his back. Still, Avalanche head coach Tony Granato
initially thought Sakic might be able to play tonight against the Wild.
But when the captain again felt some stiffness earlier today, Granato essentially ruled him out following the morning skate by saying, “It’s probably not something that will improve in the next six hours.”
Defensemen Scott Hannan (flu-like symptoms) and Daniel Tjarnqvist (foot) were also held out of tonight’s game.
All three players are considered day-to-day.Filling In
The injuries meant some lineup shuffling and also the season debuts of Hensick and Kyle Cumiskey, both of whom were called up from Lake Erie earlier in the day.
Hensick tallied an assist, two shots on goal and a +1 rating in 15:36 of ice time, while Cumiskey skated for 8:10 and recorded one hit.
“I thought I played well as the game went on,” said Hensick. “It seemed like me and Tucker and McCormick had some good chemistry there late in the second and early in the third.”
To make room for the new additions, right wing David Jones
was reassigned to Lake Erie.Numbers Game
Defenseman John-Michael Liles recorded his fifth assist of the season, and the 120th helper of his career, on Tucker’s tally in the second period. Liles now sits only one assist shy of tying Alexei Gusarov (121) for fifth place on the franchise leaderboard for defensemen.
Liles also ranks sixth among franchise blueliners with 166 points (46g/120a), needing four more to catch Jeff Brown (170).