With five days between games, a little rust could have been expected for the Colorado Avalanche in its first game back after the NHL-mandated bye.
That wasn't entirely the case Thursday night as head coach Jared Bednar liked what he saw early from the Avs but wasn't afraid to state his displeasure with how the squad ended the first period.
For Bednar, the final 13 minutes of the opening frame was the difference in Colorado's 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center.
"I liked the start, first seven minutes or so. Thought we were doing a lot of good things. We had good energy, puck was moving," Bednar said. "I did not like the second half of the first period. That was where the game was lost for us tonight. I would say 12-13 minutes to the end of the first period, we were bad. We were second to every puck. We were getting out-battled on every puck."
The Avalanche refocused at the intermission and, according to Bednar, came out with its best offensive period in the second. He said the play was even in the final 40 minutes, but the damage had already been done in his mind.
"We started to get some things going in the offensive zone. We got our 'D' involved in the second period," he said. "We were throwing pucks. We missed a couple opportunities around the paint."
However, Colorado could never fully recover after getting down on the scoreboard.
Rickard Rakell netted the eventual game-winner at 6:15 of the opening frame, just 51 seconds after Nathan MacKinnon had tied the outing on a breakaway following the Ducks mishandling the puck at center ice.
MacKinnon finished with a game-high six shots.
"I thought we had a good first period, first half," MacKinnon noted. "I thought we had a good second. We just shoot ourselves in the foot, like we usually do. It's frustrating."
Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference
The Ducks came into the evening tied for the seventh-best power play in the league, but the Avalanche did a good job of not taking bad penalties. Colorado only gave Anaheim one man-advantage opportunity, which was killed midway through the first stanza.
On the other side, the Avs had three chances on the power play but were unable to capitalize on any of them, including two in the final period. Colorado did get good looks while a man up but could only muster four shots on net during that time.
"The biggest thing that stands out for me, when we get a chance or two chances, grade-A chances, guys are walking down the slot, we miss the net every time--Zadorov and then MacKinnon," Bednar said. "You're trying to earn a couple chances [on the] power play, quality scoring chances, and it doesn't come easy for us. But then when we get there, we miss the net. That's the difference. We had a couple opportunities to get the game going in our favor and we don't capitalize on them."
Things just aren't coming easy for the Avs, who plays the third of a four-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Nashville Predators.
Cleaning up lapses in its game will once again be a focus for the squad as Colorado hits the halfway mark of the season versus the Predators.
"There are certain things that we haven't done every game going through the first half of the season, and one is when we get down, we've had the tendency to pack it in," Bednar said. "I don't want to see it in the second half. Those things like that annoy me. We have to keep fighting and trying to get better through the second period [and] through the third."
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was back in Colorado's lineup after missing six games because of a groin injury.
"I feel good, but the first period was real tough," said Varlamov, who made 28 saves. "We had only one practice on the ice yesterday. We all only skated once in five days, but second and third period it finally felt better."
Varlamov was healthy enough to be the backup in the Avs' last contest on Friday against the New York Islanders, but the coaches wanted to give him a few more days of rest during the team's bye to make sure he was fully recovered before he took his place between the pipes.
"I thought he was OK for being off as long as he has been off," Bednar said. "It wasn't his best game I've ever seen him play, but I thought he was OK. We'll need a little bit more from him moving forward, just like the rest of our group."
The goalie last played on Dec. 22 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He missed three games earlier that month with the same groin injury and has been out of the team's lineup in 10 of the previous 12 contests.
ERIK JOHNSON INJURY UPDATE
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson continues to make progress while recovering from a broken fibula, but his return to the team's lineup is still weeks away.
"We've seen him around the rink here now. The boot is off. He's walking better," Bednar said of Johnson after Thursday's morning skate. "I think there is a plan to keep moving him forward, and hopefully he hits the ice in two weeks or so. And then it is going to take him some time from there. Missing eight weeks and that injury tends to be sore when you get it back in the boot. So we'll see how he handles it when he starts skating."
Johnson missed his 17th consecutive outing Thursday because of the leg injury, which he hurt after blocking a shot by Tyler Seguin on Dec. 3 against the Dallas Stars.
Forward Blake Comeau has carved himself a spot in the NHL after nine-plus seasons spent with five different teams. That longevity has helped him become a key role player in the league.
On Thursday night, he played in his 600th game in the top level of the sport.
"It's something I'm proud of," Comeau said of the milestone after Thursday's morning skate. "You grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, and to be able to play as long as I have has been awesome. I've got to play with a lot of good players. I've got to meet a lot of good friends. The game has given me a lot. It's a milestone I'm happy I've hit. It's exciting."
Comeau is in his second season with Colorado and has played in all but five contests with the club. He missed one outing last season for the birth of his daughter and four in November because of a nagging groin injury.
Thursday also marked a games-played milestone for Jarome Iginla, who dressed in his 1,514th contest. He is now tied with hall-of-famer Steve Yzerman for 15th place on the league's all-time list.