One thing Avalanche defensive coach Adam Foote has been telling his blue liners this season is to try to play a perfect game.
Unlike in baseball, where a perfect game is a statistical term for a pitcher who doesn't allow a hit, walk or error, in hockey it’s more non-statistical with results not always showing up in the postgame scoresheet, especially when the player isn't a goalie.
In Friday night's 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, defenseman Erik Johnson was one of the Avalanche's best players, and it can be argued that he was playing a near-perfect game.
"I thought tonight that he could have been the first star of that game. To be honest with you, he was probably one of our best players on the ice," Colorado head coach Patrick Roy said of Johnson after the game. "[When] EJ moves his feet, and he's shooting with more confidence, he's a good player. I was very happy with his game tonight, he showed a lot of poise out there in my opinion."
Johnson finished the contest with two hits, five blocked shots and an assist in 22:41 of ice time. In 15 games this season the Minnesota native has five points (two goals and three assists), a plus-7 rating and is near the top among defenseman on the team in hits (30), blocked shots (26) and average ice time (21:06).
"I've been really happy with my game since the start of the season," Johnson said. "Just trying to keep getting better and try, as Adam Foote says, 'Try and play that perfect game.' Go out on every shift and try and make an impact. That's what you try and shoot for, that perfect game."
Johnson's assist against the Flames came while he was quarterbacking the Avs power play during a 5-on-3 chance early in the second period.
Aiming for the top left corner of the goal, Johnson rocketed a slap shot from the point, but the puck missed just a bit wide and bounced off the end wall. The puck ended up off the rebound on the stick of Paul Stastny, who collected it and lifted it top shelf to give Colorado a 2-0 lead.
"It's just one of those bounces, trying to shoot the top corner, but it went wide," Johnson said. "It's just a good bounce that I'll take."
While he missed on the shot, his mindset was in the right place, as good things usually happen when you put pucks on net, and it worked out for the Avs in that situation.
However, Johnson's biggest assist might have come midway in the third period for his goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound rearguard blocked a Calgary shot at the left circle and was clearly in pain after taking the puck to his body.
Despite being hurt, Johnson stayed on the ice and did all he could to disrupt any other Flames passes during the offensive sequence.
"That was a big play by Erik there," Giguere said. "I think that is difference with our team this year; guys are sacrificing, they're putting their body in front of shots… These are the little things that will make the difference at the end of the game."
Johnson's play against Calgary made the difference that night and helped the Avs pick up their 13th win of the season.