Last season, every time the Avalanche entered the third period with a multi-goal lead, I was a nervous wreck. It was almost certain that they would blow the lead somehow and end up with just one point in OT or lose altogether. It seemed to happen so often that I just expected it.
Turns out the Avalanche are still having the same problem---snatching defeat (or just a lousy overtime loss) from the jaws of victory.
Now, last night against the Stars, the Avalanche went into the third period tied at 2-2, but John-Michael Liles scored at 1:22 in the third to give the Avs the lead, and then he scored again at 9:04 to make it 4-2. One would think that a two goal lead with just ten minutes left to play in the game would be pretty tough to give up. Not for the Avalanche.
Just two minutes after Liles' second goal, Niklas Hagman scored for the Stars. Then, just a minute after that, on a power play caused by Kurt Sauer's inability to keep his stick on the ice, Brenden Morrow found the back of the net and evened the game at 4-4.
Speaking of power plays, the Avalanche improved their scoring with the man advantage to 11-36 for the pre-season, a league-leading 31 percent. Also speaking of power plays, the Avalanche gave up four goals against the Stars while shorthanded. That's unacceptable for a team that's supposed to be greatly improved on defense.
It was the power play that proved to be the Avs' downfall in overtime, when Sergei Zubov scored off a nice Mike Modano pass at 3:12. Again, a Kurt Sauer penalty (hooking this time) was to blame for giving the Stars the advantage.
Kurt Sauer needs to tighten up his game.
Peter Budaj played the entire game in net, and stopped 29 of 34 shots. That's pretty good, and the loss can't be blamed on him because of the horrendous play by the Avalanche penalty killing units. If the team in front of him could get their act together when down a man, Budaj could be putting up some more impressive numbers.
As for skaters, Wojtek Wolski finally showed up to play with a goal and an assist, Liles had two goals and Joe Sakic had three assists. Paul Stastny, Jaroslav Hlinka, Ryan Smyth and Tyler Arnason all had one helper apiece.
Defensively, Scott Hannan seems to be underachieving yet again, finishing the game at -1, and the pairing of him with Brett Clark is not working very well at all. Clark and Hannan were on the ice during four Dallas goals, three of which were scored on power plays. Clearly the PK foundation of Hannan, Clark and Stastny is not nearly as solid as it should be.
As usual, the Avalanche were lousy on the faceoff, going 26-62, which is a freaking atrocious 42%. Can't Coach Q find some time during practice to drill faceoffs?
In the end, it's still one point and it's still good enough to keep the Avs in first place in the Northwest this pre-season. They haven't been defeated in regulation and they've played very well most every game. Earning at least one point per game is a good way to win a Division title, so they're on the right track.
But for the sake of my arteries (which seem to clog every third period they play), the team needs to hone its defensive strategy---and fast.