The Colorado Avalanche is coming together, and a 5-0 victory over the visiting New York Islanders proves that patience is king when it comes to the club. While there was a sense of urgency as far as getting the ship back on track, the Avs managed to do the work needed to play a strong game against the surging Islanders.
Colorado got on the board early in the game, using sustained pressure and crowd energy to convert a chance just over two and a half minutes in. Cody McLeod would get the tally, burying a feed from Matt Duchene from behind the net. Standing on the doorstep, McLeod simply directed the puck into the top left corner of the goal behind visiting netminder Chad Johnson to take an important 1-0 lead.
“We were kind of just grinding the puck down low, and I think it was [Jan Hejda who] pinched in, and [Max Talbot] threw it down the wall,” said McLeod of the goal. “Dutch made a great play. I was yelling… coming into the slot, and he makes those plays so I just shot it on net.
“We started off good, and that’s how we’ve got to play more often. We’ve got to eat the puck down low and take it to the net, and play ugly like that.”
The second period was more of the same for the Avs, who scored three times to put the game clearly out of reach. Nathan MacKinnon, showing poise and the patience discussed this morning, scored the first of the middle frame when he backed away from a scrambling scrum with the puck and waited for Johnson to slip to the ice before burying the biscuit for his first goal of the season.
“It’s a lot of relief. It felt really good,” MacKinnon said. “I had a lot of time in the slot there—I guess—with the puck and thankfully it went in. It felt a little surreal at the first moment but it was a simple play with a jam by Landy, good pass from [Ryan O'Reilly] and thankfully I had some time.”
The power-play tally fueled the Avalanche, which kept rolling through the stanza.
Marc-Andre Cliche followed MacKinnon’s lead minutes later as he potted his first of the season—a tough-angle shot from the goal line—and the second of the evening for the industrious fourth line.
MacKinnon scored again for the Avalanche—just over a minute after Cliche—after redirecting a bullet pass from the half-boards, issued by linemate Jarome Iginla. All the 19-year-old center had to do was be in the right place at the right time, and he got the point.
“It was so quick, even if I hadn’t scored in 100 games I think that same thing might have happened,” MacKinnon said, giving all of the credit to Iginla. “Put it on my tape, and my blade was just kind of sitting there. That was all Iggy.”
Up 4-0 and headed for the third period, it would have been easy for the Avalanche to sit back and use the cushion to ride out the clock. Instead, the club continued to pressure the Islanders, keeping shots to the outside and supporting goaltender Semyon Varlamov in his bid for his first shutout of the season.
Erik Johnson finished the scoring for the Avs at 13:40 in the third period, and Varlamov did the rest, turning aside 40 shots to keep New York scoreless after 60 minutes and numerous chances.
“Yeah, there was a lot of shots tonight,” said Varlamov. “I think we played solid hockey. We played really good all three periods and we scored lots of goals, which is good too. We get confidence back, I think, scoring.
“It’s good for the forwards.”
Varlamov has been on point for the past four games now, finding a healthy groove in a place where many would least expect it. As the number of shots increase for the 26-year-old, his outrageous athleticism grows stronger and he takes control of the club’s future with both hands.
“I had a rough start, and right now it’s very important for me to get the confidence back. My teammates played well for me,” Varlamov said. “Today we played really solid defensively. We deserved to win, I think.”
For many on the team, Varlamov is the most valuable player, as evidenced by his 89 saves over the last two games—tonight’s 5-0 win and Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss.
“Varly was probably one of our best players, if not the best,” said McLeod. “It was good. It was good to see.”
“He is solid. He’s playing well. Tonight, he had a lot of shots from outside. He had a lot of shots on their power play. I thought we protected him well tonight,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “I don’t think Varly’s going to have problems receiving shots from the outside, and he did really well. At times when we needed him, he was there for us. He made some big saves.
“Like I said, he’s one of the best, if it’s not the best in the game right now, and we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a big part of this team.”
Patience was one of the biggest factors in the victory, as it was the culmination of strong goaltending, multi-tiered scoring and strong defense that helped the club succeed.
“It’s huge. It wasn’t a great first few games for the club. I think getting off to that start in Minnesota wasn’t the best thing for us,” said MacKinnon of weathering the Avalanche’s struggles early. “We’ve been playing better as of late. We’ve been up in a lot of games and tonight we finally hung on.
“They had a lot of power plays and our P.K. did a very good job. Obviously, with Varly with a 40-save shutout, you can usually win a lot of games if your goalie gets a shutout [and] is your M.V.P. just like all last season.
“We’re creeping up to .500 right now. Big two points.”
A special night
Colorado’s specialty teams play was strong again tonight, as the penalty-killing unit has now held opponents scoreless in 17 straight chances. The power play also got on the board early in the second period, with the Avalanche going 1-for-2 on the man advantage.
“Our P.K. was good tonight. Max, Clicher, and [Alex Tanguay], everybody did good. Everybody played a heck of a game tonight,” said McLeod after the game. “Our P.K. has been pretty solid for most of the part of the season so far. I think we adjust well to the teams, and that’s to the coaching staff ‘cause they plan us, get us prepared for it and so far, so good.”
Three different Avalanche players—Cliche, MacKinnon and McLeod—scored their first goals of the season against New York. Matt Duchene (two assists), MacKinnon (two goals), McLeod (one goal, one assist), Talbot (two assists), and Johnson (one goal, one assist) each had a multi-point night.
Cliche’s score was the second of his NHL career.
Varlamov’s 40 saves were the most he’s made in a shutout in his career and it also marked the first 40-save shutout for the Avalanche since Roy did it in a 3-0 win at Anaheim on Nov. 15, 2000.
“I thought our guys were playing hard today and they competed well,” said Roy.
The Avs recalled forward Dennis Everberg from the Lake Erie Monsters Wednesday afternoon. Everberg was brought up to fill in for forward Jesse Winchester, who is still recovering from a head injury.
Everberg played in five games for the Monsters, tallying two goals and one assist through nine shots on goal.
“It was a good experience coming down there to play. It’s kind of different hockey but it was fun. Too bad we didn’t get as [many] wins as we wanted,” said Everberg.
The 22-year-old began the season with the Avalanche, playing in five games before being sent down to Lake Erie.
He finished the contest against the Islanders with two shots, two hits and two blocked shots through 11:54 of ice time.