When the team has need him, goaltender Pavel Francouz has been a steady presence in the crease for the Colorado Avalanche through the first third of the season.
Francouz showed his reliability and stood strong in net on Wednesday, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced to help the Avs earn a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Pepsi Center to extend their point streak to eight games (7-0-1).
His biggest test came in the second period when the Flyers outshot Colorado 17-5 and the majority of the period was spent with the Avs defending. Francouz made 17 stops in the frame, and Mikko Rantanen gave him some breathing room by scoring to give the squad a 2-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
"They try to come back and I think a huge part of this game was that we stayed patient and we didn't panic in that time," said the goaltender. "We stayed structured in our zone, we tried to seal them out of the danger zones, and we blocked a lot of shots and then we scored the second goal and it was huge for us."
Francouz has now played in four straight games and owns a 3-0-1 record in that span with a 2.14 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
"I mean that is what you need," head coach Jared Bednar said of his netminder. "In order to be consistent and keep winning hockey games, you need above average goaltending. He has been good. He has been really good coming in all year in relief when there has been injuries. He has been good when he's been given sporadic starts and now he's been good stringing some starts together. It's been great."
The Plzen, Czech Republic, native is unbeaten in regulation in his last nine appearances, going 6-0-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .932 save percentage since Nov. 7. On the season, he has a 2.37 goals-against average and .927 save percentage with a 8-2-1 record in 13 outings.
Video: Goalie Pavel Francouz talks about the Avs win
During that timeframe, he has been injured, been used as the starting goalie while Philipp Grubauer has battled a lower-body ailment and has filled the backup role while both netminders were healthy. Colorado also has the NHL's best record in the stretch with a 12-3-1 record (.781 points percentage).
"I have been through sometimes in my career when I didn't play some stretches and I was trying to learn how to deal with it, so I think it is helping me now when I have this experience," said Francouz. "I am just trying to be ready every game. I am having the same routine if I play or if I don't play, so I am just trying to be in the game every game.
It is the first season that the 29-year-old is playing in the NHL and his second in North America. He posted a 27-13-3 record in 49 outings with the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles in 2018-19 and finished tied for fifth in the league with a .918 save percentage as the team's starting goaltender.
"It is a little bit different for the goalie when you play more and more," said Francouz. "You have more feeling, you don't have to think about it that much. I am really happy I can play behind this team because it is a great time."
He was close to earning his first NHL shutout in the game versus Philly, but Claude Giroux beat him with just over five minutes remaining in regulation with a backhander in the low slot. However, the two points in the standings were more important to the goaltender.
"For sure I would love to have a shutout," he said. "But, if someone tell me in the morning, we will win 3-1, I would take it right away."
FIRST IN THE WEST TO 20
With the win, the Avalanche became the first team in the Western Conference to reach 20 wins this year (three teams had already done so in the East).
This is the third-fastest Avs squad to reach 20 wins in a season (31 games), trailing only the 2013-14 team (27th contest) and 2000-01 club (28th outing). It is also the fourth-quickest in franchise history as the Quebec Nordiques earned 20 wins in 29 games during the 1994-95 campaign.
Colorado is now 9-1-2 against the Eastern Conference this year, tied for the most wins of any West club versus the East (Edmonton and Calgary). Additionally, the Avs are 9-3-2 at Pepsi Center this season and 15-3-2 in their last 20 regular-season home games.
The Avalanche's eight-game point streak (7-0-1) matches its longest such streak of the season, which was previously set to start the year (7-0-1, Oct. 3-19).
Video: Coach Jared Bednar on the Avs' 3-1 win vs. Philly
MORE AVALANCHE NOTES
Mikko Rantanen recorded his second multi-goal game of the season and first since opening night against the Calgary Flames. His first tally was the eventual game-winning goal, his third of the season (also Oct. 3 versus Calgary and Oct. 14 at Washington) and the 12th of his career.
Rantanen now has 20 points this season, the second time in his career he has produced 20 points in 15 or fewer games (11 games in 2018-19). Peter Forsberg (three times) and Joe Sakic (three times) are the only other players in Avalanche team history to do so on multiple occasions.
Video: PHI@COL: Rantanen nets excellent feed from in tight
Valeri Nichushkin extended his point streak to three games, matching a career long (seven times, last on Nov. 23-29).
Matt Calvert has tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in four games since returning from injury at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 4.