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Set Plays Work To Perfection In Minnesota

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche knew it was going to have its work cut out for them if the team was going to get some pucks past Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding, who hadn't lost a game at home all season.

Knowing Harding's strong start, the Avs had to get shots on net and do what they could to clog up sightlines and screen the goalie.

The Avalanche did just that on its first two goals in its 3-1 victory on Friday and gave Harding his first loss at Xcel Energy Center this year.

Both scores by Colorado came on shots from the point while Harding was screened.

Colorado opened up the game's scoring at 3:45 of the first period when Harding was screened by defenseman Erik Johnson on Jan Hejda's slap shot from the top of the right circle.

The goal by the Avs came on a set play of cycling the puck around the net before moving it toward the blue line for another pass or, in this case, a shot.

"We have been practicing this for the last three practices at home and the set play on [the opposing defenseman] is he is supposed to go up on my position, he didn't, he went in front of the net," Hejda said of the sequence that resulted in his third goal of the season. "I had no other option then to shoot. I was just trying to get it on net for a rebound, but there was a pretty good screen in front and it went through."

After having success at it in the first, the Avs decided to give it a try again in the second period and the same result ensued.

From almost the exact spot that Hejda took his shot, Gabriel Landeskog fired the puck toward the net while PA Parenteau was placing the screen. Landeskog's shot was tipped by Nathan MacKinnon in the slot and got past Harding at 4:34 of the stanza.

"We should test Harding a little bit more," Landeskog said of the team's mindset after the first 20 minutes. "We've spent some time down there cycling and using the back of the net like we want to. I think we want to get some more shots on this guy and like you saw on that [first] goal."


Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped 27 shots and improved to 6-0-0 on the season. The veteran netminder becomes the first goalie in franchise history to begin a season by winning his first six games.


"I've been practicing hard and trying to get ready to give [Semyon Varlamov] a break," Giguere said. "Varly has been playing outstanding for us. I'm going in there with no pressure, just doing my game and trying to give the team a chance [to win]."

Giguere made several key saves on shots from close range throughout the game, but especially in the third period when Minnesota was pressing and fired 16 pucks on net.

The 36-year-old goalie stopped every shot he faced in the final frame, and the only puck to get past him was on a pass through the low slot and to Giguere's backside in the second period.



Captain Gabriel Landeskog had key assists on the Avalanche's first two goals and scored the clinching empty-net tally to cap off a three-point game.

Landeskog's three-point night is the second of his career and ties a career high. He last accomplished the feat on Feb. 28, 2013 against Calgary when he also had a goal and two assists.

Landeskog was on a line during the game with Nathan MacKinnon and PA Parenteau, a combination that Avs head coach Patrick Roy put together in the third period of Wednesday's contest versus St. Louis.


With the Avalanche holding a 1-0 lead late in the first period, Cody McLeod was given a major penalty for boarding, allowing the Wild a five-minute power play and a chance to score as many times as it could while having the extra skater on the ice.

Colorado wouldn't allow any goals, and Minnesota was only able to get off one shot during the power play that spanned the end of the first period and the beginning of the second.

"It was great to kill that one because it could have easily have gone in their favor—the momentum if they would have scored," Roy said. "Not only did we do a good job, but we didn't give them too many chances or too many shots."

The five-minute penalty kill for the Avs was the beginning of a strong penalty-kill game while a man down as they only allowed two shots on two shorthanded chances.


The Avalanche and the Wild will face off again Saturday in Denver to cap off a back-to-back, home-and-home series.

Roy said he expects Minnesota to come out strong at Pepsi Center and play like it did in Friday's third period when it had 16 shots on goal.

"I know they are going to bounce back tomorrow, and we're going to have to be ready," Roy said. "That is what I said after the game, 'Let's enjoy this tonight on the plane, but when we get to Denver let's make sure we're ready because I know they are going to play like they did in the third period.'"

The victory gave the Avs a two-point advantage in the standings over the Wild as both clubs entered Friday's contest with 34 points. Colorado has played three fewer games than Minnesota.

The Avalanche and the Wild, two former Northwest Division rivals now in the Central Division, will play a total of five times this season, with three of those meetings coming in Denver.

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