It seems so long ago now that Pickard was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed keeper getting his first start in the NHL—at the Bell Centre in Montreal no less. Throw in his second recall of the season and a handful of wins, and Pickard was ready to go against one of the top clubs in the Eastern Conference.
Alas, the contest didn’t end the way that he had wanted as a late-game goal from Max Pacioretty sealed the 4-3 victory for the visiting squad.
A back and forth slugfest, the match saw goals and leads traded like Pogs on an elementary school playground in the 1990’s. Each club had a lead and had to battle back from a deficit in the 60-minute contest. This made for some good entertainment for the fans, but it wasn’t quite the recipe for success that Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy is trying to instill in his squad.
“I have to admit it’s pretty entertaining, but at the same time we have to find a fine line between entertaining and winning hockey games and bringing games into overtime,” Roy said. “I think it’s something that you learn with time. It becomes part of your culture, learning how to play those games. I think this is why we’re not there yet. This is why we have things to learn. It’s part of the process.
“I think it’s just experience. It’s a learning process.”
When you play a potent team that also gives up a hefty amount of goals against, you’re going to see some goalscoring. But it is how you control the contest when you have the lead that makes the difference, and that is something that Colorado is still working on.
“We can’t lose games like this at the end of the game. Our game management needs to be a lot better,” said Roy, explaining one of the game’s misfires. “Our guys know that if a ‘D’ pinches, they have to be there for them. They have to take over as defensemen.
“We should have kept our game a little more simple.”
Former Canadiens forward and current Avalanche veteran Daniel Briere agreed, lamenting that the Avs deserved better from their effort.
“Once again, it’s the management of the game that kind of did it for us in the third period. If we would have just played a little better in the neutral zone,” said Briere. “We can’t give up chances like that late in the game. I think we gave up too many there in the third period. It’s a disappointing loss after the way we had played.
“It’s one of those disappointing losses [and] I thought we definitely deserved better.”
Montreal started the scoring off eight minutes into the first period when forward Jiri Sekac found twine behind the Pickard, ripping a shot through traffic.
The early lead didn’t hold up for long, as Avalanche veteran Daniel Briere tied the match with 34 seconds left in the first period with an outstanding individual effort. Briere stole the puck from Montreal along the boards, slid past a defender and into the slot and ripped the puck behind Carey Price.
According to Briere, the equalizer was equal parts luck and deception, something only a wily forward can muster.
“It was a good bounce on that play for me, personally. The puck, the way it bounced, I was able to keep it alive and walk in,” said Briere. “I think Carey Price—just shooting on him a lot last year—he thought I was going glove side ‘cause that’s usually where I would shoot on him, and I surprised him with a wrist shot the other way.”
Ryan O'Reilly got the next tally 35 seconds into the middle stanza off a pass from Alex Tanguay behind the Montreal net. It was a boom-boom kind of play on the short side for Colorado’s first lead of the night.
Andrei Markov scored next, on the power play, before Tyson Barrie looked to have the go-ahead goal for Colorado—thanks to a deflection off Canadiens defenseman Brandon Prust. But goals from P.K. Subban—on a blast from the point—and Pacioretty sealed the game.
“Pacioretty put a good shot up over my shoulder at the end. Definitely I’d like to see that goal back,” Pickard said of the game-winner. “That was a big goal at a bad time for us. I thought we deserved better, for sure.
“They’re a good hockey team, and they’re high up in the standings for a reason. They have a great goalie, a great ‘D’ corps. They have some very good forwards as well. I think we’re right there. We match up well against any team, and we’ve just got to bear down and get points.”
It wasn’t a lack of effort on his part—Pickard made 26 saves—or a need for better preparation that resulted in the tough loss.
“We were prepared by the coaches very well for this team. We prepared on a couple different things in their O-zone play and we were ready for it,” said Pickard. “I thought we played a pretty good game. Their goalie played good at the end, and they got the saves towards the end there. It would have been nice to tie it up but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
That doesn’t mean the loss is any easier to take for a team that has been quietly turning the season around.
“We should be [disappointed]. We played hard. I thought we were very good for a big part of the game,” said Roy. “Part of the second period, I think they had better chances because we made too many turnovers.
“We gave up three 2-on-1’s in [one] sequence. That’s clearly not what we want. Yes, we want to be an offensive team. Yes, we want to go, but we’ve got to think a little better. We need to be better in those situations, and obviously some of the guys on our top two lines didn’t perform at the level we needed to win the hockey game.”
21-year-old Avalanche prospect Colin Smith made his NHL debut in the contest. He finished with one shot, one hit and won 40 percent of his faceoffs in just 6:06 of ice time.
Fellow Lake Erie Monsters forward Michael Sgarbossa had his first appearance with the Avs this season. His last game with the club was Feb. 11, 2013.
The Avs return to action in the first of two road games on back-to-back night on Thursday in Calgary.