“They came out hard in the first. It felt like we put them back on their heels a little bit in the second, and in the third I felt like we took over again and it shifted again in the third,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, summing up the night’s events in just a few sentences. “It was a lot of shifting back and forth in momentum.”
Both clubs had their moments of triumph and tribulation, and each found the scoreboard numerous times on the night. New York had a 3-1 lead after two periods, yet the Avalanche battled right back in the final 20 minutes, sniffing out a tie before again trailing to close out the match.
It was one of those back and forth games that saw the crowd’s emotions ebb and flow as often as the play on the ice.
Landeskog—in the fashion of a true leader—brought a sense of urgency to Colorado’s comeback, tallying first to start the rally in the middle of the second period.
“I thought Landy’s goal was a huge goal to get some momentum back after they were up 2-0,” said veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who also scored.
Landeskog’s play—not just in scoring but throughout the night—was something that head coach Patrick Roy was pleased with.
“I was very proud of our captain. I thought he showed great urgency in the second, especially when he scored his goal,” said Roy. “I’m encouraged by the way the captain showed up tonight. I’m very encouraged by that.
“It was a performance that I think his teammates could look at and say ‘This is how we have to work if we want to have some success.’”
Moments after the goal, the Avs found themselves on a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. Unable to convert during the man advantage, the situation very nearly served as a turning point in the game for New York. The visiting squad scored moments later, but the Avs didn’t relent.
“I thought the guys did a great job of overcoming that because there was a big momentum [shift] after that. They scored, and we could have just rolled over,” said Iginla. “As a group, I thought in the third period we came out right from the drop of the puck and were able to put a ton of pressure [on], get a lot of shots and tie it up.”
With back-to-back goals—from Iginla and Jan Hejda—the Avs were in the game. The momentum had turned once more and the score was even again. The tie was short-lived, however, and the contest got away from Colorado after that as New York tilted the ice one last time.
“It felt like we were coming, and unfortunately they scored shortly after that and ran with it from there. I thought we were coming all the way back tonight, and we had that chance to do that,” said Iginla. “That one, it hurts because we battled in a tough game, in a roller coaster game, where it was there and we didn’t come all the way.”
“If anything, the thing that’s most disappointing is when we come back, we fight and scratch our way back into the game and tie it up with 10 minutes to go,” said Landeskog. “The crowd was so loud at that point, and the whole building was rocking and our team was feeling good and we just tied it up. You have to be able to ride that momentum wave and be able to play with that momentum for the rest of the game.
“It’s disappointing when you come back from a two-goal deficit and [can’t] run the momentum. It’s what good teams do, especially at home.”
The Avalanche doesn’t have much time to dissect the loss, as the club has three more home games in the next six days, starting with a matchup Saturday against the Dallas Stars.
“That was disappointing, but we don’t really have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” said Landeskog. “We’ve got to think about this one tonight and then move on tomorrow.”
400 AND COUNTING
Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly skated in his 400th career game tonight at Pepsi Center, a milestone that came swiftly for the young player. O’Reilly cracked the Colorado lineup as an 18-year-old, just months after being selected 33rd overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and has already reached the total. Looking back, he says the experience has been a whirlwind.
“Four-hundred games definitely flies by, but I think it’s something that’s a good milestone and hopefully the first of many,” he said. “I always dreamed of playing as early as I could, and to make the team at that age was an amazing thing. You go from just wanting to play an exhibition game to wanting to play in the regular season, and the next thing you know you want to stick there, get past the 10-game mark and stay here.
“Just the way things unfolded was amazing. It feels like yesterday. It’s amazing how quick it goes.”
O’Reilly has 83 goals and 137 assists through 400 games played, and is on pace for further success in the future. At 24 years old, and in the midst of his sixth professional season, O’Reilly said he’s starting to discover the type of player he needs to be to have a lasting career.
“After last year, kind of starting to put the puck in the net more, and then this year definitely trying to put the puck in more, I think I know that, if I want to continue to stay in this league, I’ve got to be able to produce on offense a lot more. I think I’ve had tastes of it and realized that that’s the kind of player I need to be,” he said. “I need to provide. I definitely think I have some good qualities with my stick and playing defensively. I feel like I excel and play well in that area, and you always have to work on that, but offense is the big one that, if you can do that, will hopefully make for a long and successful career.”
PART OF THE PROCESS
When probed before Thursday’s game, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy offered an insightful glimpse into Colorado’s process.
“Obviously, we’re not happy in the position we are today, especially after the trip. A week ago, in here before the Detroit game, we were very positive,” said Roy. “Today, a week later, we’ve lost three in a row. We’re eight points out of the playoffs. Obviously, it’s not where we wanted to be a week ago, but at the same time we need to reflect on what we did in those three games.
“The reflection, obviously, is ‘how can we improve our offense?’ This morning we talked about different things, but we tried to define how we want to play as a team. Do we want to be a team that gains the zone and puts a lot of pucks on net? Do we want to be a team that’s driving the net? Do we want to be a team that screens the goalie?
“When you’re not scoring, you try to look for different solutions. How can you possess the puck more? How can you have more scoring chances? How are you going to have more shots on net? These are the things that I asked the players to bring tonight.”
In keeping with the idea of a partnership between coaches and players, Roy said he worked with the team to discuss what needs to be changed in order to make a legitimate push for the postseason, which includes the mentality among the skaters.
“When you’re losing, we have the tendency to be discouraged a lot easier, be negative a lot faster, maybe take chances that you would not take if you [had] a very positive mindset,” Roy said. “I think, in the next few weeks, we’re going to work a lot on our mindset and go back to what we want to achieve as a team.”
Last season’s success and this season’s struggles have been a prime example of the kinds of ups and downs that come with a young team looking for a lasting identity. This is what Roy means when he references the process that the Avs are going through.
“It’s not a fun situation we’re in, but at the same time it’s a good situation in the way that we’re learning a lot. We’re learning how it is to be in a slump, and now we’re trying to find out how we get out of a slump,” said Roy.
The 49-year-old Hall of Fame goaltender-turned coach knew what he was in for when he accepted his position with the Avalanche: turning the team into a contender. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“I’m not here for the short term. I’m here for the long term. I’m here to win the Stanley Cup. If one of you guys said to me that we were going to win the Cup last year or this year, then I would say I’m probably in the wrong place,” said Roy. “It’s a process. Maybe because what we did last year sent a message saying that maybe we’re better, maybe we could speed up the process, [but] this year it’s a bit [about the need] to give time to these guys to perform at their level, give them time to learn.
“When you don’t play playoff games, it takes a longer time to develop and learn how to win.”
There’s work to be done in Denver, and that means learning and growing from every win and loss.
“It’s a good opportunity right now for us to reflect and look around and establish what we want to achieve as a team.”