That’s life when the puck dictates who’s lucky and who isn’t.
The Colorado Avalanche managed two victories on its three-game road trip in contests in which it was outshot and, for some stretches, outplayed. A lot of that had to do with the outstanding play of netminder Semyon Varlamov, who turned aside 69 shots in those two games.
Yet, a tough start that saw the Buffalo Sabres score goals on each of its first two attempts on net put Colorado in a hole that just couldn’t be overcome in Sunday’s midday match.
“You know, it’s kind of funny because we didn’t play very well against Detroit [and they] came up short,” head coach Patrick Roy said after the game. “I thought this afternoon we had a strong game and we [came] up short.”
Down early, backup netminder Calvin Pickard entered the game with 15:18 remaining in the opening frame and changed the pace as best he could. Despite a tipped shot from Sam Reinhart getting behind him, Pickard locked the door to the cage and threw away the key.
Roy admitted he had considered giving Pickard the start initially, but it’s hard to switch goalkeepers when one is on a run.
“It was in our mind to think about going with Picks, but at the same time [Varlamov] played so well,” Roy said. “Sometimes when a goalie gets in the zone you just want to let him play and go and go, and unfortunately it’s not the start I’m sure he wanted.”
The pressure was on the Avs to get it going, and despite averaging 11.6 shots per period, one tally was all they could manage in what was largely the best effort of the roadie. They finished the game having outshot the Sabres 35-21 and out-attempted the home team 60-42.
“It was probably how Detroit felt against us last game,” said defenseman Erik Johnson. “They outshot us more than 2-1 and we ended up winning. Sometimes that’s just how the game works. Overall, we played a pretty good game. Their goalie played really well.”
“It was a tough start, but I thought we played well. The first period, they jumped on us pretty fast, and they scored those three goals, but I thought we had a good first,” Roy added. “That’s what I said to our guys. I thought we came back even stronger in the second. The second was by far our best period. Unfortunately for us, we only had one goal.”
Johnson had the lone tally for the Avs, a nice backhanded dish into the net off a smart, on-the-ice feed from Mikhail Grigorenko.
“Got a great pass from Grigo, I think it was,” Johnson said of the score. “Just had to tip it into the open net. It was a great play by him. Wish it could have kind of been a momentum turner for us to get back into the game, but it didn’t happen.”
The activation from the blueliner to jump up in the rush was a top-down directive on display all night as Colorado battled to regain equal ground.
“That [was a] message for the whole ‘D’ squad; whenever we get a chance, we want to get active,” rookie rear guard Chris Bigras said. “We’ve got some pretty good forwards up there that can move the puck. Like you saw on EJ’s goal there, he jumped into the play and a forward found him and he put it in.”
That was the only puck that could find the net, as the Avalanche failed to convert on any of its five man-advantage opportunities—including during two minutes of a 5-on-3 situation.
“We had a chance there at the 5-on-3 at the end to really make it a game and couldn’t put one in,” Johnson said. “That one hurt us.”
Said Roy: “At the end on the 5-on-3, we had another chance to get closer in that game. I have to give them credit. They played well on that 5-on-3, positioning themselves really well, but you have to generate more chances. That’s the thing you need to do.
“I thought they played it well, but we need to generate more offense. There’s no doubt about that.”
The loss in Buffalo ended Colorado’s 10-game winning streak over the Sabres, a mark that was tied for the longest active streak against any one opponent in the NHL. The Dallas Stars have currently won 10 consecutive contests over the Vancouver Canucks as well.
It was the first time that the Avs have lost at First Niagara Center since March 24, 2003, when they fell 4-3 in overtime. The Avs are now 6-1-1 in their last seven trips to Buffalo. They are also now 3-3-1 on games played on Valentine’s Day.
Mikhail Grigorenko’s return to Buffalo for the first time since being traded by the Sabres at the 2015 NHL Draft didn’t quite go the way he or the Avalanche had planned.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a big game for me in Buffalo,” the 21-year-old Russian forward said of facing his former club on Wednesday.
Although he was focusing on the other games ahead of him, Grigorenko admitted that he wanted to play well in front of the fans that welcomed him into the NHL.
He did that, recording a beautiful assist on Colorado’s lone marker.
“I saw EJ driving the net, so I just tried to get it to him and he made a nice play to put it in,” he said.
Grigorenko finished with 19:16 of ice time while skating alongside John Mitchell and Jarome Iginla for much of the match.
“It was nice to come back in this building, had a lot of good memories,” Grigorenko said following the game. “I was really excited. I wish we would have won the game, but it was good.
“It was a little bit more special than other games, but at the same time you’ve just got to go out there and try to help your team win.”
He now has assists in back-to-back games for the Avalanche and is focusing on playing well since Roy challenged him to do so when he was initially placed on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene last Monday.
“For me, it’s really important to play really good every game,” the Russian said on Wednesday. “So it doesn’t matter who we play against, especially [because] we only play twice against Buffalo. There’s 80 other games that you need play good, so I don’t really care who we play against.”
Grigorenko has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 51 games with the Avalanche.