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Poor Start Dooms Avs In Dallas

The Avs pushed back but couldn't overcome the first period

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

DALLAS--It didn't take long for things to get tough for the Colorado Avalanche in Thursday night's 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

By just over the halfway point of the first period, the visiting team was trailing 2-0. By the end of the frame, the Avs were looking at a hefty three-goal deficit, and head coach Jared Bednar wasn't thrilled about it.

"That was frustrating to watch, the first period. You have to give Dallas a little credit, they came after us in the first period. For me, we weren't ready to go at the drop of the puck, so next thing you know we're in the box," Bednar said after the game. "They got a break on their first goal. OK, so that sets you back a little bit. But then we took some penalties and made some mistakes on the penalty kill, and it ends up in the back of our net. Then we get mad and decide to play for the last 40 minutes. 

"I loved our guys' effort for the final 40 minutes, but unfortunately 40 minutes doesn't get the job done on many occasions. Especially when you're that poor in the first."

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

Momentary lapses in discipline directly resulted in consecutive goals for the Stars, who appeared to have the game out of reach after just 20 minutes of play. Overall, the amount of time spent in the penalty box was frustrating for Bednar.

"We took seven. I mean one guy had three. You're taking three, you're not doing something right," the bench manager said. "If you take seven as a team, you're not doing something right. Some of them were needless and some of them were in the first period because we weren't working hard enough."

With Colorado's leading scorers--Matt Duchene (concussion-like symptoms) and Gabriel Landeskog (lower-body)--out of the lineup, it was going to be up to everyone else to pick up the slack if there was any shot at a comeback.

For the most part, that's what the Avs did.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, playing on a line with Andreas Martinsen and AJ Greer, was one such guy itching to make a difference for the club. The 21-year-old native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, had 10 shots on his own in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, and that surge carried over into the showdown in Texas.

Video: Nathan MacKinnon reflects on Avs' loss to Stars

"He's been kept off the scoresheet as far as goalscoring goes as of late. It has to go back to the basics and the work ethic and shooting pucks and getting to the high-traffic areas, the areas where you're going to score," said Bednar. "He did that again tonight. I didn't love his first period, just like the rest of the team, but he came hard in the last two periods.

"He was all around the net. He was hanging onto pucks. It wasn't fancy plays. He was driving his legs and using his legs and doing the right things and making the right decisions with the puck, and sometimes that's just throwing the puck on net. I'm sure he had a lot of shots again tonight, I didn't see (the scoresheet), but he made a lot of plays and put pucks down there all the time."

MacKinnon put up a dominant performance, making an impact in all game situations. While paired with Martinsen on the penalty kill, MacKinnon got the Avs on the board after a hardworking shift finally paid off.

In the second stanza, Martinsen forced a play up the boards, pushing Dallas on its heels as he chased the lone defender. He was able to close the gap, forcing the play into the end boards where he laid a hit to free the puck. Martinsen then fed MacKinnon on the back door for the all-important tally.

"I think we both play simple," MacKinnon said of his chemistry with Martinsen. "He's a train out there. He's heavy, fast and makes good plays. It was a really good pass by him. I think just the simplicity of our games meshes well."

 Video: COL Recap: Avalanche rally falls short in 3-2 loss

In the third, the young forward fired a shot from the blue line that Mikhail Grigorenko tipped in to push the game to 3-2. Yet despite his best efforts, MacKinnon couldn't help the Avs find the equalizer.

"We didn't quit. We wanted to be positive after the first period and didn't want to change our game plan, and we didn't," MacKinnon said of Colorado's response after the opening frame. "I thought we should have tied that game up. We dominated the third period, and it is unfortunate that [Kari] Lehtonen had a really strong game. We wanted to be resilient, and I thought we did a good job." 

MacKinnon finished the night with his goal and assist, six shots, 10 attempts and a 52-percent win rate in the faceoff circle (16-for-31) while skating for 22:36. He also spent 4:52 playing shorthanded compared to just 1:26 spent on the man advantage.

"I thought I was skating well. My legs felt good," he said afterward. "Getting the puck, I thought like it was following me around. Probably should have buried a couple other chances, but that's the way it is."

On the whole, Bednar approved of the final two periods of play. But for him, that was no consolation for a 3-2 loss to a Central Division opponent.

"We're a good team when we decide to play. That is as hard as I've seen our team compete for that period of time all season long, 40 minutes," Bednar said. "I love what we did in the final 40 minutes, but that's got to be lesson learned for us. We can look at that and say that's the new bar for our team, the final 40 minutes, but it doesn't get us the win."

  
GREER NABS FIRST POINT

It only took two games for him to find the scoresheet--well roughly five periods plus 1:51--but AJ Greer picked up his first point on Thursday night when he assisted on Grigorenko's tally in the third period. 

"It feels great. It's great to get it out of the way," Greer said before recalling the scenario. "It was a great play, back and forth in the D-zone and then we got it out. [Fedor Tyutin] gave it to me in the middle, and I kind of just turned around, found MacK, [who] put it on net, and Grigo put it in. Great tip. It's nice to get that one out of the way, and I'm fortunate enough to be here and be with the guys here. It's exciting, and hopefully it's not the last one."

Video: AJ Greer records first point in second NHL game

Greer almost got his first marker later in the frame when he caught a pass in the slot and fired what could have been the tying goal on Lehtonen.

"Again, it was a great play by my linemates and just good communication all around," he said of the play. "We had a good shift, and Grigo kind of faked a shot, turned around and found me up in the open. I should have got that one up high, but it was a great save from Lehtonen. Our line was very effective in the third period, and we can just build on that."

Greer has brought exuberance and a relentless work ethic with him into the Avalanche lineup, both in his first game on Sunday against the Boston Bruins and again on Thursday in Dallas. For him, that kind of performance is key in not only finding success but also proving he's worth keeping at this level.

"It's really important. From the start, the first 20 minutes, it's important to bring that energy all through the 60 minutes," said Greer. "I think there are some things that we can correct, but overall I thought we had a really, really good effort. Everyone was on their game, just those little mental mistakes, penalties and stuff; we buried ourselves in a hole. I think we can build off that, and I think we had a really great effort from everyone here."

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