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Line Combinations Providing Offensive Spark

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche switched up two of the top three offensive lines last Saturday against the Dallas Stars, and the new combinations found almost immediate success together, igniting a goalscoring fire in the 4-1 win.

Tallies came from three of the four trios, including two from the John Mitchell-centered group, which weren’t too drastically altered from the way they had been before.

Veteran forward Alex Tanguay played alongside Mitchell and Dennis Everberg, while Maxime Talbot skated with Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla.

The line comprised of Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon remained intact, and even they found the back of the net.

While the decision to mix up some of the combos paid dividends early, Duchene doesn’t think it was based on any sort of stale chemistry.

“I don’t know if things were stale, but I know that change can be good at times,” Duchene said of the restructuring. “This move balances things out even better through our top three lines there. We have a lot of great players that can play all kinds of roles on this team, and you kind of see it when things like that happen.”

When things come together like they did on Saturday, the success is written large on the scoresheet.

“Max is a smart player, he works hard. He is great on the forecheck, and he’s got some scoring touch and offensive touch too. I thought we clicked pretty well last game,” said Duchene. “We had that one goal there, and we could have had a couple more for sure. We had some good chances. We want to just continue to build on that. We’ve got a little bit of everything on that line. And Tangs played great with Mitchy and Bergy last game. It was nice to see that work right away.”

In the same way that the new pairings found a spark, the O’Reilly-centered line used familiarity and consistency to leave its own mark on the night.

“There’s definitely a comfort that eventually kind of sinks in, and you kind of feed off a guy’s tendencies. You know what he’s going to do in situations,” O’Reilly said. “It’s less time thinking for you and more just kind of reaction, read and reaction. That creates speed and intensity.”

O’Reilly credits the performance of his line to the work that his partners bring to the table.

“I’m very lucky to be able to play with MacKinnon and Landeskog. Those guys are two great players,” he said. “MacKinnon’s speed, he generates so much off that. Landy is one of those guys that just does everything right. He makes a big hit when he needs to. He gets a great shot off. He goes to the net. He does everything right on the ice, and playing with them makes my job a lot easier. It’s nice to see us get a little confidence together.”

That confidence is what Colorado is hoping will continue tonight at home against the Arizona Coyotes.

“When we continue to do those little things right, and we’re getting pucks deep and getting that possession below the goal line, then we’re moving our feet, we’re skating, we’re hungry for that puck,” said O’Reilly. “It’s nice to see that we’re getting results and putting the puck in the net. It’s definitely something that we have to maintain.”

The Avalanche is also planning on continuing to execute on its predefined objectives, the roadmap for success if you will.

“They play a stingy game. They’ve got a lot of young guys up in the lineup right now that are working and playing hard to keep a spot in the NHL,” said Duchene, offering up his opinion on how to win the small battles that can bring home a victory. “I think at the end of the day, it’s just all about compete and wanting it more.

“And not being afraid to make mistakes. When you’re not afraid to make a mistake, when you’re confident, you move your feet more. You’re more aggressive. You do things with more assertiveness and more conviction, and I think that’s what we’ve seen the last few games when we’ve been scoring goals.”

“It’s one of those things that, if we’re moving our feet and being physical, we seem to get the bounces and find the puck in certain areas,” added O’Reilly. “It’s one of the key things, a part of our game with our speed and our intensity.”


HARD-HITTING GOAL

Although Jarome Iginla was credited with a third-period goal on Saturday night—thanks to the puck glancing off his leg and redirecting enough to find twine—it was the cannon of a shot from the point by Brad Stuart that made it all happen.

The tally was one of the more memorable ones of the season, as the elation of scoring was instantly overshadowed by concern for two Avalanche players that were down on the ice by the time the horn had sounded. There was a fear that not one, but two defensemen had been injured after Stuart and Nick Holden collided mere seconds after the shot was released.

“I was going for the puck and Stuart saw me the whole way and hit me,” Holden said with a wry smile. “He found out that I’m a pretty solid guy, and his helmet found that out as well. He came at me and I won the battle.”

Worry gave way to excitement as both players returned to the game uninjured, and the Avs went on to win 4-1.

“We were joking afterward that we both weren’t hurt,” Holden said. “We were also joking that, if we wouldn’t have scored on that play, they would have been going down probably on a 3-on-0 ‘cause we were both laid out on the ice.”

The only casualty of the hit ended up being Stuart’s helmet, which cracked near the earpiece after impact with Holden’s chest and shoulder.

Perhaps it was Holden’s indestructible nature that led to the fissure in the plastic protector.

“I don’t think anybody’s indestructible, but pretty close,” Holden teased before offering up a serious take on the incident. “I had my head down the whole way. I saw him a couple seconds before, and I kind of straightened up. I don’t think he saw me. He was trying to hammer the puck, which he ended up doing. I straightened up and boom.”


BLUE JERSEY MAGIC

An interesting note on the season to date is Colorado’s record while wearing the blue, third jerseys in home contests. The Avs have gone 6-1-0 in the sweaters this year, and the club is 14-3-2 in them since the start of last season.

So is there any particular thing about the uniform that the players feel gives them a leg up?

Not exactly.

“I didn’t know that. I’m guessing we wear them tonight?” asked Nathan MacKinnon. “Hopefully we can keep that streak going.”

“I guess we have some confidence in them,” O’Reilly said after finding out about the statistic. “I definitely hope it carries over.”

It would appear that the success stems from something less tangible.

“Whenever we see them come out, we’re definitely excited,” Duchene said of the rare opportunity to mix things up. “Hopefully we keep that trend going.”

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