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New Lines A Winning Combination For Avalanche

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy hasn't been pleased with the offensive output by his team recently.

Getting two players back in the lineup seemed to help.

With John Mitchell and Patrick Bordeleau healthy and returning to game action on Saturday night, Roy overhauled his line combinations, and the change worked as the new groups contributed four goals in the Avalanche's 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

"Our forwards, I thought spreading out our offense helped out a lot," Roy said. "We had like four good lines tonight, and they all played well."

Mitchell, who had missed 10 of the past 11 games and each of the last seven contests with a leg injury, centered a line with left wing Alex Tanguay and right wing Jarome Iginla. The combo played well through the first 40 minutes, and then exploded in the third period with two goals in the first 5:09 of the stanza to make a fairly close 2-0 game into a comfortable 4-0 contest. The trio also connected on an empty-net tally in the final minute of play, scored by Tanguay for his second of the night.

"They are obviously great players, both Tangs and Iggy. I feel like a spring chicken, a young rookie, playing with these two guys," Mitchell said. "It's great. I'm happy for the opportunity to play with these two guys, definitely."

Mitchell set up Colorado's first goal of the third with a hit along the boards in the Avs zone, forcing a turnover and a 3-on-2 the other way. Upon entering the Sabres end, Mitchell dropped the puck off to Iginla, who made a cross-ice pass to Tanguay that just found the winger's stick. After quickly gaining control, Tanguay ripped a perfect shot far side, over the left shoulder of Jhonas Enroth and into the corner of the cage at 1:51.

"Mitchy is really smart defensively," said Tanguay, crediting Mitchell for his first goal of the game. "He does the right thing. He makes the smart plays, and he kind of pushed the guys up the boards and we kind of got going off of that… I was lucky enough to find the back of the net."

Mitchell was the beneficiary of a Tanguay pass 3:18 later on the power play for his fourth goal of the year. Tanguay pushed a loose puck at the low left circle to the slot for Mitchell, allowing the forward to send a snap shot over the Sabres goalie's glove.

The goal came from pressure the Avs had developed in the Sabres' territory all game long, and the team was finally able to take advantage of it.

"We just sustain pressure in their zone. The more we play down there, the better for us," Mitchell said. "We'll be buzzing, 30 seconds or so, and as soon as they get the puck they are just getting to the red line and dumping it in, and we can change and bring another forward line and get right back at it again."

What also made Mitchell's goal unique was that Roy was using same even-strength line on the power play. Often times the power-play units are not exactly the same, usually with one or two forwards from another line added to maximize on the scoring chance.

The Colorado coach did the same thing on the team's first power play of the game at 16:51 of the first period after Andre Benoit hooked Nathan MacKinnon on a drive to the goal. Roy elected to keep the even-strength group of MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Maxime Talbot out on the ice for most of the ensuing power play.

The Duchene-MacKinnon-Talbot unit wasn't able to connect on the man-advantage chance, but they had already found the back of the net at 2:23 of the stanza.

On a breakout into the Buffalo end, MacKinnon received a pass from Talbot before cutting inside, making some slick stickhandling moves to freeze the Sabres defensemen and then feeding the puck to the slot for Erik Johnson. The Avalanche D-man fired a low, far-side wrister for his seventh tally of the season.

Colorado's other new line combo of center Ryan O'Reilly, left wing Gabriel Landeskog and right wing Daniel Briere was also effective, despite not scoring. The trio combined for four shots and around 15 minutes of playing time, nearly the same amount as the Avs' other top lines.

The Avalanche's top nine seemed to wear down Buffalo's defense as the game progressed, and it didn't help the Sabres that Tyler Myers—one of the team's best rear guards—and big body Patrick Kaleta left midway though the contest and didn’t return.

"You look at tonight, with our first three lines, it's hard for them to matchup their top 'D' pairs against all three of us," Tanguay said. "We feel all three units can be productive, can be scoring offensively, and certainly that was the case tonight."

PICKARD CLOSE TO SHUTOUT

Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard will have to wait another day for his first NHL shutout. Johan Larsson, who was recalled by Buffalo earlier in the day, tallied his first NHL goal with 6:33 remaining to cut the Sabres' deficit to 4-1 and disrupt Pickard's shutout bid.

"I've been close a couple times, especially the last two games," Pickard said of the possible shutout. "It would have been nice, but they earned the goal. They had a guy going back door there, and they put a good shot over my pad. We'll give them one, but the win is the key thing and we're happy with the two points."

Pickard was playing in his fifth consecutive game for the Avalanche and stopped 28 shots for his fifth career win.

"I'm feeling great. It's nice playing all the time," Pickard said." When we're playing games like this, it's easy. I'm called upon a couple times a period, but we were solid throughout the 60 minutes, P.P., P.K. and even strength. When you do that on the road, you're going to win more times than not."

He entered the game with a 1.97 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in his last nine games, and was also coming off a 47-save performance Thursday in Pittsburgh, which set an Avalanche record for stops in a game by a rookie.

McLEOD'S SHORTY

Cody McLeod's second goal of the season and second career short-handed tally gave the Avalanche some much-needed breathing room in the first period.

Ryan O'Reilly helped create the scoring sequence that led to a 2-0 lead for the Avalanche at 7:07 of the opening stanza. O'Reilly beat a Buffalo player to the loose puck at the blue line, went down the right side and threw a saucer pass over to McLeod, who was driving to the net.

McLeod was able to get his stick on the puck as it landed to the ice and poked it through Enroth.

"I saw Factor get a step on his guy, and I just wanted to beat my D-man to the net," McLeod said. "He made a great play, and lucky it went in."

McLeod's other short-handed goal of his career came last season, March 29 versus San Jose, the game Colorado won to clinch a playoff spot.

BORDLEAU RETURNS

Forward Patrick Bordeleau has been skating for the last seven weeks. Often times in a red non-contact jersey. Often times alone before practice.

However after missing the first 31 games because of back surgery, Bordeleau finally made his season debut for the Avalanche on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Bordeleau

“Obviously, I’m excited. It’s been since April [that] I’ve played a real game,” said Bordeleau earlier this week. “I just hope I can help the boys to get them back on that road to the playoffs. I’m excited and anxious at the same time ‘cause I missed so many games.”

Being out of the lineup is something Bordeleau isn't accustomed to since making Colorado's opening-night roster for the 2012-13 season. He played in 46 of the 48 games in the shortened NHL campaign that year and was one of two players to appear in all 82 contests last season.

While Bordeleau has been skating since early November, it took until now for him to get into game shape. He missed much of his offseason training regimen with the surgery occurring over the summer.

“It’s a long process. I got hurt, I think, on July 15, five months ago,” Bordeleau said. "It’s just a lot of conditioning. I’m still behind the boys, obviously because I missed five months, but I’m working on it every day with [assistant coach] Timmy [Army] and [strength and conditioning coach] Casey [Bond].”

Bordeleau played 6:46 against the Sabres while resuming his usual role as a winger on the fourth line with Marc-Andre Cliche and Cody McLeod.

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