The 22-year-old stood across the ice from Pekka Rinne, perennial dominator of pucks, and squared off in a good old fashioned goaltending duel for nearly 60 minutes of play.
“He was good tonight. He made some great saves,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after the match. “I thought we defended pretty well in front of him. They had a lot of power plays, and I thought defensively we had a good game.”
In the midst of his third call up this year, Pickard should be used to anything that comes his way. He’s been deked by P.K. Subban. He’s stoned Marian Hossa with an epic, back-diving paddle save. He’s earned multiple come-from-behind victories with Colorado. He’s even won his last three games with the Lake Erie Monsters.
So when he was burned on a Filip Forsberg breakaway early in the first period on Tuesday night, there wasn’t much question about his ability to bounce back, which he did no problem. Perhaps it’s because he’s feeling more comfortable at the NHL level now that he’s played nearly 10 games.
“Yeah, definitely,” Pickard said of the NHL becoming more familiar. “I didn’t like my start today. Obviously, I let in one of the first shots, but after that I thought I settled in pretty good. We were right there all night. We had a couple posts and that’s the difference in the game.”
Pickard proceeded to pitch a shutout for the remainder of his 44:53 on ice, giving his team every chance to tie the game before he was pulled for an extra attacker.
“It happens, regardless of how sharp you are sometimes,” Pickard said of the first tally. “You just can’t let it affect you. You’ve just got to focus on the next shot and focus on making that save.
“You’ve just got to limit your mistakes. You know [Rinne is] not going to let in a whole bunch of goals, and they have a good team over there. They’ve had a lot of success early on in the year. That first one went in but it’s just back and forth, and we were a post away from tying that game.”
Three posts. That’s how many times the Avs came close to tying the match.
Unfortunately the first Avalanche goal of the game remained elusive, and Nashville was able to put away two more tallies—both empty-net attempts—to push the game out of reach.
“They get an early one and they’re kind of riding on that the rest of the game,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog. “We got our chances. We hit, I think, three or four posts. We had enough chances to tie up the game, there’s no doubt about that. I felt like we were into it, all the way to the end, but we need more. That’s not good enough. We’ve got to find a way.”
The takeaway for the team, despite the loss?
“I feel like we’re a good enough team to skate with any team in this league, no doubt about that,” Landeskog said.
Still, the lack of offense, especially at key moments in the game, is something that cost the Avalanche in this one. There is a solution available to Colorado, it’s just about learning how to execute it on the fly.
“It’s very easy. Look at the sequences [where] we hit the post,” said Roy. “We had net presence, that’s it. It’s as simple as that. Those three times, we had somebody close to the net.
“Sometimes the best play is a simple one. Put it on net and drive that net and we might get one.”
The trouble now, as Roy sees it, is that the Avalanche is still too fancy around the opposing crease. Trading quantity for quality, the players are looking for twine to shoot at instead of creating havoc to force some goals.
“You watch the videos, and when we have point shots, we’re passing in front and we finish on the side instead of stopping and staying there. We’re just looking maybe for the perfect goal all the time,” said Roy. “That’s not the way it works. Sometimes you’re going to have the ugly one and tip something on someone and it’ll go in, especially against a goalie that played that well.
“He was seeing everything. He was sharp tonight. I think we were not that much of a threat for him.”
While the team continues to work at restructuring the game strategy to account for more ‘ugly’ goals, Roy said he doesn’t have plans to drastically alter his top lines anytime soon.
“As a goalie, my coach was living and dying with me, and I’m going to live and die with these guys,” he said. “I’m going to trust them, and I believe that eventually the puck will go in, and they’re going to find a way to play the game, maybe a different way.
“There’s some areas of our game that I think we have improved and there’s some areas that we’re going to have to be a little bit better, like the point shots, traffic in front, better on the rebounds, competing better on those rebounds. I think it’s going to make a difference.”
The skill is there for it, that’s for certain.
“I think we have so much talent, it’s only a matter of time before we explode and have a big night,” said Pickard. “It’s definitely going to come soon.”
There have been many first NHL games for various Avalanche players this season—Dennis Everberg, Andrew Agozzino, Colin Smith and Pickard are just a few to have done so in the first half of the year—and each has been special in its own right.
But when Borna Rendulic took his first shift in the first period on Tuesday, it was something different. Rendulic became the first Croatian-born and trained player to play in the NHL. The trained part is key because one other Croatian, Goran Bezina, has also spent time—three games—in the top hockey circuit. But Bezina, born in Split, Croatia, when it was known as a constituent republic of the now defunct Yugoslavia, trained in and currently plays in Switzerland.
Regardless, it was an exceptional evening for the 22-year-old Rendulic, who finished the game with one of the post shots mentioned above through ten shifts.
Rendulic put up four goals and three assists through 21 games with the Lake Erie Monsters before his recall.