The Colorado Avalanche dropped its first game following the Olympic break Wednesday after the Los Angeles Kings scored four unanswered goals to prevail 6-4 at Pepsi Center.
Colorado had its chances in the third period to tie the game as the club was buzzing around the L.A. net in the final minutes. The Avs had several good looks late when they had a two-man advantage on a power play and an extra attacker on the ice after they pulled their goalie, but they couldn't beat Kings' netminder Martin Jones. Los Angeles scored an empty-net goal with 11 ticks left to secure the win.
"Hey, no one is perfect after two weeks off," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said following the game. "To me, there is a lot of positive on our side."
Two of the positives were the play of Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, as the forwards didn’t look like they had lost a step since the Avs' previous game Feb. 8 on Long Island. Both players had two-point nights and picked up where they left off in the 14 games before the Olympic break when Duchene had 12 points and O'Reilly had 13.
Duchene had three goals and nine assists in the 14-game stretch before leaving for Sochi to play with Team Canada. He scored twice and tallied the 100th of his career in the last game before the break against the New York Islanders.
O'Reilly scored seven goals and assisted on six others in his last 14 games before the NHL paused its season, which included him picking up his 100th career assist Feb. 1 versus Buffalo and scoring his second overtime winner this year on Feb. 3 at New Jersey. He also set a new career high for goals in a season during that time, surpassing his previous high of 18 from the 2011-12 campaign. He is now tied for the team lead for goals with 22.
The two forwards were on a line that also included PA Parenteau, and the trio was playing in their third-straight game together after they were put together Feb. 6 at Philadelphia.
Roy liked what he saw from the line before the break, and he was just as pleased in the first game after it as they were on the ice for three of the Avs' four goals, which included two in the first period.
O'Reilly opened the scoring for Colorado on the power play at 11:17 of the first period. After several quick passes, Nick Holden found O'Reilly in the low slot where he gathered the puck and scored into a gaping area of the net to tie the game at 1-1.
"The power play moved the puck well," Roy said. "If you look at our first power-play goal we scored, five guys touched the puck before the puck ended into the net."
Duchene's earned his first of two assists in the game 5:15 later after he made a nice play to shake off an opposing player and create open space in front of the L.A. net. From behind the Kings' cage, Duchene moved to the low left circle and did a quick spin pass that found the stick of Parenteau in front for a tap-in goal.
"Dutchy had a lot of jump. What a play he made on that goal by Parenteau. That was a super play," Roy said. "I thought he was dangerous."
Duchene didn't have any shots on goal in the game, but he was a threat to score nearly every time he had the puck in the Los Angeles zone.
The gold medal winner with Canada helped create the Avs' third goal midway through the second period by starting some nice tic-tac-toe passing that ended in Jamie McGinn's 15th tally of the season. Duchene brought the puck into the Los Angeles end and made a cross ice feed to O'Reilly at the right side. O'Reilly then passed the puck to the slot where McGinn was streaking toward the net and scored on a wrist shot that beat Jones on the blocker side.
The assists on McGinn's tally marked Duchene's 15th multi-point game of the season and O'Reilly's 10th game of the year with at least two points.
MACKINNON EXTENDS STREAK
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon extended his career-high point streak to nine games after assisting on Andre Benoit's goal at 15:42 of the second period.
MacKinnon received a pass from Paul Stastny at the top of the crease and got a shot off that was denied by Jones' pad. The puck, however, caromed off to the right where it went off Benoit and settled across the goal line.
The nine-game streak (five goals, seven assists) is the longest by an NHL rookie this season, and MacKinnon is the first NHL rookie to have points in nine straight games since Kevin Shattenkirk did it with Colorado from Nov. 17 to Dec. 4, 2010.
While MacKinnon's streak was extended, Gabriel Landeskog's career-high nine-game point streak came to an end (four goals, eight assists). It was Avalanche captain's second streak of at least eight games this season, and he became the first Colorado player to have two point streaks of at least eight games in the same season since Andrew Brunette in 2006-07.
TALBOT MISSES GAME TO BE WITH FIANCÉE; SARICH RETURNS
Maxime Talbot missed his first game of the season Wednesday, but he had good reason to.
Talbot and his fiancée Cynthia were expecting their first child any day, and Roy hinted after morning skate that the forward might not be able to play against the Kings.
Talbot was replaced in the lineup by defenseman Cory Sarich, giving the Avs a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Sarich had missed the last 13 games after suffering a back injury Jan. 11 at Minnesota, but he began practicing with the team again last Thursday.
"He is cleared today," Roy said of Sarich after morning skate. "He had three good practices this week, and if [Talbot has to leave] then he will play."
Sarich was the seventh D-man for the Avalanche and saw 11:10 of ice time.
After the game, Roy said that the team hadn't received any news from Talbot regarding the birth of his child.
FROM TEAMMATES TO FOES
A week ago they were teammates at the Olympics, but on Wednesday night several Avs and Kings players were back to being foes trying to help their respective NHL teams in the stretch run to the playoffs.
The Avs' Matt Duchene faced off against Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter of the Kings for the time since the three of them helped Team Canada win the gold medal last Sunday, while Paul Stastny was playing against fellow Team USA players Dustin Brown and goalie Jonathan Quick. Also, Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and Los Angeles' Slava Voynov were teammates with Russia.
Varlamov and Quick did not play as their coaches elected to give them an extra day of rest after both netminders were the primary starter for their respective national teams.
Duchene said before the game it wouldn't be hard to put Olympic friendships aside and focus on the game at hand.
"It's the same as when we were at the Olympics playing [Gabriel] Landeskog and Stastny," Duchene said. "You're friends off the ice, but on the ice it's business. You play hard and your commitment is to the team's jersey you're wearing. I have done this many times with guys I've played with. It's an old hat, I guess."
Wednesday's morning skate was the first practice session for Stastny and Landeskog (Sweden) since returning Monday from the Olympics as both player chose to do off-ice workouts on Tuesday.
While most of the players for both the Avs and the Kings are well rested after not playing since the first week of February, the Olympians did have an advantage on their side—being in game shape.
"We were gone for two weeks, but we were playing this whole time," Stastny said. "A couple days off were good, and we'll be ready to go."
JOHNSON SERVES FIRST GAME OF SUSPENSION
Erik Johnson wasn't in the lineup for Colorado as he was serving the first of a two-game suspension for a slashing penalty in the Avalanche's previous game.
The defenseman was assessed the infraction at 12:09 of the third period on Feb. 8 at the New York Islanders. It appeared as if Avs D-man was trying to whack the stick of Fran Nielson, but he missed and hit the Islanders player's hand instead.
Nick Holden took Johnson's spot on defense, as he was paired with Jan Hejda.
This is Johnson's first suspension of his NHL career.