The Colorado Avalanche has traditionally had success in the shootout since the NHL implemented the overtime-tiebreaker at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Colorado entered this season with a 53-31 all-time record in shootouts and had scored on 38.4 percent of its attempts (111-of-289). So when the Avs began this season by dropping its first two shootouts, is seemed that the club had lost some of its magic in an event that is often considered a skills competition with a 50-50 chance of winning.
That magic seems to still be on the Avalanche's side for the time being as the team has now won five consecutive shootouts after Matt Duchene and Alex Tanguay scored and goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped both shots he faced in a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night at Pepsi Center.
"It's nice to see when guys are scoring in shootouts," said Varlamov, who stopped Derek Roy's and Jordan Eberle's backhand shots in the tiebreaker. "It gives you lots of confidence. When the guys score, you just want to stop the puck really bad."
Varlamov improved to 20-13 in career shootouts, having stopped 74 percent of the shots he's faced (77-of-104). He is now 2-2 this season while stopping 6-of-10 shots.
Duchene scored the first and game-deciding goal of the shootout after the Avs' Nathan MacKinnon and the Oilers' Roy were unable to score in the first round of the tiebreaker. The Colorado center lined up, was patient while heading down the ice, and slid the puck past the right pad of Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens after catching him out of position.
"The goalie didn't bite on my first fake, so I was just able to think quick and pull it to my backhand," said Duchene, who is now 4-for-7 on shootout attempts this year. "Tonight I was able to get him to bite."
Duchene often times already has a move and puck placement in mind when he lines up for the breakaway at center ice. He's not just choosing on a whim, but instead planning his route and shot selection as part of his pregame scouting report on the opposing team. He works with video coach Mario Duhamel before every game and practices some of his potential moves with backup goalie Reto Berra.
"I think the biggest thing is each goalie has a different style and different stuff works on each goalie," Duchene said. "I just tried to get [Scrivens] to bite and make him change directions. It's tough for a goalie to do that."
Varlamov was up to the test against Eberle after Duchene scored, making a cross-crease blocker stop. Tanguay ended the game in the top half of the third round with his patented, patient, top-shelf wrist shot. Tanguay went through the slot from the right side of the ice to the left, deked, got Scrivens to go low and threw the puck into the open cage to end the contest.
In regulation, the Avalanche led 1-0 after Daniel Briere's second-period goal, but the Oilers were able to tie the game in third period on a power play to force overtime.
While it wasn't the way they hoped to win, the Avs will certainly take the victory via tiebreaker. The club is now 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and has moved its overall record to 15-15-8 on the season.
"A win is a win," Varlamov said. "It's nice to get two points, and we need to continue to work at it."
DUCHENE LIKES EDM
Matt Duchene had the primary assist on Daniel Briere's seventh goal of the year and now has 28 points (seven goals and 21 assists) in 23 career games against the Oilers. It is his highest scoring total versus any team.
Duchene helped create the tally by taking an Edmonton player with him around the net before throwing the puck through the low slot for an easy tap-in by Briere.
"On that play there, it all starts with great puck placement by Danny," Duchene said. "He puts it in a place where I can catch it and still keep in movement and protect it. That’s why I was able to get a step on the guy coming out front, and I was just trying to put it over there. We talked about that, I like to do that a lot, just trying to throw it across and he was Johnny-on-the-spot. He’s such a smart player, and he’s not going to miss that one.”
Said Briere: "That’s the luxury of playing with a player like Matt Duchene. What I was telling myself before the game was, ‘Try to find the open areas around the net.’ You know, he’s so crafty, so strong on the puck around the net, behind the net, all I was trying to do was get open for him, it was all his play. That was probably the easiest goal I’ve ever had to score."
It was the first game of Duchene playing on a line with Briere and left wing Gabriel Landeskog, as head coach Patrick Roy attempted to maximize the scoring potential of his top three lines while also trying to break Duchene out of his scoring slump.
VARLY KEEPS CLIMBING IN FRANCHISE RECORD BOOK
Semyon Varlamov won his 85th game as a member of the Avalanche on Friday, passing Stephane Fiset (84) for sole possession of fifth place on the franchise's all-time wins list.
He made 27 saves, with the only puck getting past him being a power-play tally from Benoit Pouliot at 4:47 of the third period. After that goal, Varlamov was solid as he finished the final regulation period with 11 saves before making two more in the OT session.
"He proven that he is a No. 1 goaltender when it comes to big moments in games," said team captain Gabriel Landeskog of his netminder. "He wants to be that hero. He wants to be the guy that is counted on."
Varlamov now owns an 85-66-17 record in 170 games with Colorado.