It wasn't the perfect homestand by any means, but the Colorado Avalanche found a way to grind out two victories and five of a possible six points this past week.
"We found a way to win. I'm not going to get upset after wins, I'm just not," said head coach Jared Bednar after the Avalanche's most recent contest, a 3-1 defeat over the New Jersey Devils at Pepsi Center on Friday night.
The Avs received timely goals from Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, and Nathan MacKinnon tallied an empty-netter with 32 seconds remaining to seal the Devils' fate and stretch the club's point streak to a season-long nine games (8-0-1). It is tied for the longest active point streak in the NHL with the Calgary Flames (8-0-1).
Calgary is the only team that has been able to defeat the Avs in the last three weeks, doing so with a 5-4 win in overtime on Monday that began Colorado's three-game homestand. The Avalanche responded with a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.
Goaltender Pavel Francouz made 32 saves against the Flyers and was challenged again by a Devils team that attacked hard in the first and third periods. Francouz made 37 saves against New Jersey, which included all 13 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes and 15 of 16 in the final 20.
"That game is all Frankie for me," Bednar said. "We had a really nice power-play goal, great execution, we score some timely goals, but that game is all Frankie. Maybe the last [game] before that and maybe even the one before that."
Video: NJD@COL: Francouz stretches to deny Hughes
For the second straight contest, Francouz was within six minutes of producing his first clean slate, only to see his shutout bid fall short. It didn't seem to matter for the Czech keeper, as the Avalanche still picked up the victory and he improved to 7-0-1 in his last 10 games played.
"A huge part of it is the strength of the team, you know," Francouz said. "We're able to win games like this, even [Wednesday] night against Philly. We have a really strong team, and it's great for the goalie to play behind a team like that."
With Philipp Grubauer making progress from his lower-body injury but not quite healthy enough to start, Francouz guarded the pipes at the opening faceoff for a third-straight contest, tied for his longest such stretch of his NHL career (Nov. 7-12). He's now played in five consecutive games and six of the team's last eight.
"Especially these three home games, it was like every other day, so you kind of get into a rhythm," Francouz said. "We didn't skate yesterday so we had plenty of time to rest. It was a great call, and it worked pretty well."
Video: Pavel Francouz after the win against New Jersey
Colorado finished its homestand with a 2-0-1 record and is now 10-3-2 on home ice in 2019-20. Since a five-game skid in early November, no NHL team has been better than the Avalanche, which owns a 13-3-1 record in the 17 games since Nov. 7.
The club's play over the past six weeks has helped propel it up the standings, as the Avs now move back into the top spot in the Western Conference with a 21-8-3 record and 45 points. Not every win during the team's current stretch has been pretty, but every point has been earned and deserved.
"I think it is a sign of a good team that you find ways to win games, ways to pick up points, even when you're not at your best," Barberio said. "I think that is what happened this week, this homestand. It wasn't our best, but good teams find a way and it's a good sign."
Video: Bednar talks Pavel Francouz after the win vs. Jersey
CONFIDENT AND COMFORTABLE
It took a couple weeks, but Valeri Nichushkin's comfort and confidence in burgundy and blue is showing. The proof is on the scoresheet.
Nichushkin scored his sixth goal of the season on Friday, all of which has come in the past 10 outings, and stretched his point streak to a career-long four games. He now has nine points (six goals and three assists) in the past 12 contests.
"I just think it is a confidence thing," defenseman Mark Barberio said of Nichushkin. "I'm sure he heard how many games it was that he didn't score. I think once he got that first one, the monkey was off his back and he's playing some great hockey for the team. He is such a big presence, and he's got a lot of speed. He's strong down low. He's got all the tools, so it's really fun to see right now."
Video: NJD@COL: Nichushkin rips puck into the twine
Before Nichushkin's current streak, he had six previous three-game stretches with at least a point in his five-season NHL career, including one earlier this year from Nov. 23-29.
With 10 points through 28 games so far this campaign (six goals, four assists), he has now matched his total from all of last season when he achieved 10 assists in 57 contests.
20 AND 50
Nathan MacKinnon had an assist on Gabriel Landeskog's opening tally and scored into an empty net in the closing seconds to help him hit 20 goals and 50 points on the season.
MacKinnon reached the 50-point threshold in 32 games, one fewer than when he hit the milestone last season (33 games). He is first fourth player in franchise history and the first since the Avalanche moved to Denver in 1995 to record at least 20 goals and 30 or more assists in 32 or fewer contests into the team's season.
The Colorado center is the sixth NHL player to tally at least 20 times this year and is one of three to reach the half-century mark in points. Only the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (57) and Leon Draisaitl are ahead of MacKinnon in the league scoring race.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
The Avalanche has scored three or more goals in its last 10 games and in 15 of its last 17 contests. Colorado's 117 goals this season is tied with the Washington Capitals for fist in the NHL and its 3.66 goals-per-game average is tops in the league.
Colorado improved to 10-1-2 against the Eastern Conference this season, the highest points percentage (.846) of any team against the East and tied with Calgary for the most wins by a Western Conference team against the other conference. The Avs have won five straight games against the Eastern Conference.
The Avs are now 3-2-1 in games taking place on Friday the 13th.