There are no moral victories in the NHL. If no points are earned, the defeat stings, no matter how well a team might have played.
The Colorado Avalanche learned that lesson on Saturday at the Nashville Predators. The club played fairly well for much of the night but couldn't capitalize on many of its scoring chances--especially on any of its seven power plays--and lost 5-2.
Twenty-four hours later in the Avs' second game of a back-to-back set at the Detroit Red Wings, it appeared as if they were going to face the same fate. Colorado was getting opportunities, but the team was still down 3-1 and was scoreless on five man advantages midway through the third period on Sunday at Little Caesars Arena.
The Avalanche finally broke through with the extra man on the ice--twice to be exact. Nail Yakupov tallied on the power play with 6:15 remaining to get Colorado within one, and then Nathan MacKinnon's shot went off teammate Carl Soderberg with 45.2 seconds left while the Avs had an extra attacker on the ice to tie the game and send it to overtime.
In the extra session, the Avs continued to push, and MacKinnon scored the game-winner at 2:55 to give Colorado the 4-3 win.
No need for moral victories on this night. The Avalanche got the win and the two points in the standings.
"Even in Nashville, we were out of that game even though we had some chances and didn't capitalize on them. We kept playing and not giving up," head coach Jared Bednar said after Sunday's win. "You have to play the whole game. Give yourself the best chance and at least develop habits in games like that when you're out. We kept playing yesterday and got two third period goals. We kept playing today and got two more. It's a positive sign for our team."
Video: COL@DET: Soderberg ties game late in the 3rd
It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Avs would get a couple more pucks past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. Colorado outshot Detroit 37-24 in the contest, including by a 25-17 margin in the final two regulation periods and OT, and had 62-45 edge in shots attempted.
"We were buzzing all night. I thought we got a lot of chances," MacKinnon said. "I thought especially in the second period that we had a real good period. We were all over them, and we just couldn't get anything going. Great job by Yaky to score and a good tip by Carl on the 6-on-5. We were desperate. We were throwing everything at Jimmy Howard. He played really well tonight, but it feels good, for sure."
After going pointless on Saturday, MacKinnon stepped up with the game in the balance on Sunday.
MacKinnon picked up both of his points on shots from a similar location on the ice. His tying assist came after he one-timed the puck from the left side to traffic in front, and his game-winner came from a slick wrist shot that fooled Howard near side.
Video: COL@DET: MacKinnon snipes one past Howard in OT
The Avs forward now has 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in his last nine contests.
"We had a similar play last night against Nashville, hit the post on it," MacKinnon said of his overtime-winner. "I am pretty confident with that shot. Might have surprised that goalie a little bit. I shoot glove a lot, so maybe I caught him off guard with a low blocker shot."
A big part of the Avalanche's resiliency in Detroit was sticking with the process after not having success early on the power play. That is what downed the club in Nashville, and it very well could have been the case again after the Avs' scoreless streak with the man advantage stretched to 12 instances.
"I just think last night we got a little down on ourselves," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "Obviously when you get a five-minute (power play) and don't score, I think you might start gripping your stick a little tighter and doubt yourself a little bit. We put it behind us and we realized that was probably the reason why we lost the game last night, was special teams."
The Red Wings scored on one of their three power-play chances to take a two-goal lead with 8:53 left in the third, but the Avs kept at it and finally capitalized a few minutes later when they received their last opportunity of the night.
"You're not going to score on every power play, even if they want to, and our message to those guys is that you got to stick with it," Bednar said. "You got to keep doing the right things and not trying to force things and go back to basics and rely on the structure and take what they give you. I thought yesterday we created a few more chances than we did on the power play [tonight], but today we finally get one at a key time and it gives us a boost in order to comeback in the game."
Video: COL@DET: Yakupov fires one past Howard for PPG
The Avalanche hasn't always been rewarded for its strong play as of late, despite putting together solid efforts. Colorado had lost three straight games on the road--four if one of the NHL Global Series outings in Sweden is included when the Avs were designated as the home team--but could have come away with at least a point in every one of those outings.
Having a strong road record to match their success at home will be key for the Avs, as they now pass the quarter mark of the season. Colorado is 6-1-0 at Pepsi Center this year and will play six of its next seven in its home building. With a record of 4-7-0 now in visiting arenas, the Avalanche is well on its way to doing just that.
TONINATO'S FIRST POINT
It's been a whirlwind weekend for Avalanche rookie forward Dominic Toninato.
On Friday, he received his first NHL call-up. On Saturday, his dream came true as he played in his first game in the league. On Sunday, he found the scoresheet for the first time with an assist on Erik Johnson's first period goal.
"It's a pretty cool experience," Toninato said. "Getting that first point out of the way is always huge, and now you can just concentrate on playing hard and playing your own game."
Toninato centered a forward combo with wingers Sven Andrighetto and Nail Yakupov, the same linemates he played with on Saturday in his debut in Nashville. He finished Sunday's contest with one shot, one hit and winning 4-of-6 faceoffs in 9:43 of ice time.
Video: COL@DET: Johnson beats Howard five-hole to draw even
GIRARD'S STAYS WITH AVS
Rookie defenseman Samuel Girard dressed in his 10th game of the season on Sunday, and it appears as if the 19-year-old will remain with the Avalanche for the year.
The reason why Sunday's contest in Detroit was so important for Girard is because if teenagers with junior rights play fewer than 10 games and are then sent to their major-junior club, they're entry-level contract can slide for another year.
Girard can still be sent to the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League later in the season, but one of the three years on his contract will still be used up.
From what head coach Jared Bednar saw from Girard in his first few games with Colorado, he figured the young blueliner would stay up with the Avs.
"I think he'll be a member of our team based on what we're seeing," Bednar said on Wednesday prior to Girard's eighth NHL contest. "He was impressive in a lot of ways, and he brings us something that we need. Another guy to drive us offensively and move the puck out of our zone. He's a guy that I can't imagine is going anywhere to be honest with you."
Girard was acquired from the Nashville Predators in a three-team trade that also included the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5. He has five points (one goal, four assists) in his 10 contests this season, with the first five outings coming with Nashville.
The Avalanche made two small changes to its backend in the second half of its weekend back-to-back set.
Defenseman Chris Bigras replaced Andrei Mironov, who had played in three-straight games, and goaltender Jonathan Bernier started between the pipes. Bigras was a healthy scratch on Saturday, while Bernier backed up Semyon Varlamov in Nashville.
Colorado used the same forward line combinations against the Red Wings as it did versus the Predators, and the only change among the defensive pairings was Bigras playing with Tyson Barrie.