With two points up for grabs—and a Stadium Series game looming on the 2016 horizon—both teams came out flying in Thursday’s contest at Pepsi Center. There was hitting, there was fighting, there was some good, old-fashioned hockey on display in Denver, perhaps reigniting what once was.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Avs had fallen 3-0, but the game was much closer than the score revealed. Two empty-net tallies mask the chess match that took place in the Mile High City, with each team trading chances and each goaltender playing outstanding between the pipes.
At even strength, the contest could have gone on forever, neither side giving an inch. Throw in a power play here and there, and that ended up being the difference in the loss. Detroit put one home on the man advantage and the Avalanche did not.
“Five-on-five, I honestly think that we were the best team on the ice,” said Colorado coach Patrick Roy following the loss. “We played really well defensively. Our guys worked hard tonight.
“I really believe that we were the best team on the ice. It was a 1-0 game, and it could have gone either way in my opinion. It was a hard-fought game.”
The low-scoring affair was bookended by an evenly matched contest of limited shots and increased physicality. Anything that did find its way to the cage was turned aside by Petr Mrazek (28 saves) and Semyon Varlamov (26 saves).
“There wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities, and Varly did a great job—when they did get a chance—to shut the door on them,” said defenseman Nate Guenin. “They’re very skilled. They can make plays, and you can’t get caught reaching. You’ve got to play them physical, good sticks—stick on puck—‘cause they’ll make you pay.”
Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader broke the 0-0 stalemate at the 13:25 mark of the middle stanza, scoring a power-play goal off his own rebound in front of the net while Jan Hejda was in the penalty box for interference. The special teams tally was the deciding factor in the match.
“Special teams, they got the better of us there with the power-play goal, and that turned out being the difference,” said Guenin.
“We skated extremely well in the first period. We had some chances that we have to take advantage of, and we didn’t. They took care of their one power play, and we didn’t take care of our power plays,” said veteran forward Alex Tanguay. “It’s very frustrating. Those are points we needed bad.”
Despite the deficit, Varlamov continued his strong play in front, shutting down everything else on the night, as he’s done so many times before. The team just couldn’t find a way to equalize.
“Varly’s been great. He’s the backbone of our team. We knew that all along, and he’s been playing outstanding here the last month and a half, two months,” said Tanguay. “He’s that type of goalie. He’s that good. For us, we’ve just got to go out and score. We know he’s going to do his job.
“We have to find ways to find the back of the net. All we needed was one. They got the last two on an empty net. Basically it was a 1-0 game until then. We had our chances. It’s certainly very frustrating, but they’re a good team. They played a good game too.
“It’s certainly not the outcome we were looking for tonight.”
POWER PLAY CHANGES COMING
The Avalanche has struggled on the power play as of late, prompting Patrick Roy to discuss the possibility of some changes coming in the near future.
“I guess we’re going to have to think about the players we’re going to put on the ice, and we’re going to have to see about maybe doing things a little different,” said Roy. “We’ve been giving them a lot of chances to produce, and it’s not working. Zero-on-22, that’s not acceptable to me. Also, tonight it was a difference maker. They scored on their power play, and we could not score on ours.
“We put pucks on net in the first two, but we just can’t get the rebounds. We just don’t compete enough. The battles in the corner in the second—we lost the momentum in that power play because we lost every battle.”
The lack of goals on man-advantage chances is a source of exasperation for the forwards as well.
“We still have the ability to create more offense than we are right now, and it’s certainly frustrating. Every game, it seems we’re not scoring as much as we’d like. We have to rectify that,” said Tanguay. “We’re all very disappointed, very frustrated, but we’ve got to look to Saturday and Sunday. This is a big weekend.”
The Avs will have a chance to retool on the road, as this weekend features two divisional games at Minnesota and Winnipeg.
MACKINNON’S FIRST FIGHT
Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon got into his first NHL fight on Thursday night, dropping the mitts and going punch for punch with Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The tilt came after some rough play along the boards in the Red Wings zone, which the 19-year-old MacKinnon took exception to.
“I think it was a headshot in the corner, and I think that’s what started everything. Obviously, I’m not in favor of MacKinnon fighting, but I guess he had his reasons,” said Roy. “I’m certainly not going to encourage any player to fight, but at the same time sometimes those things happen in a game.
“Was that a smart thing to do? I don’t think so, but it’s an emotional game. I think he wanted to set the tone, and I’ll respect what he did.”
MacKinnon and Ericsson both served their five minutes and that was the last of it on Thursday night.