And nothing lasts forever
My first instinct is to make this recap a long, sarcastic diatribe about how Peter Budaj has sucked his way into a 1.34 GAA and .959 save percentage over the last 3 games (and, by the way, 2 key road wins). However, since I don't really know what "diatribe" means, I'm going to play this one straight.
As I stated in my recap tonight, the Avs were going to need a strong game from Peter Budaj to beat the stingy Blues' defense, and they got exactly that. Budaj turned aside all 35 shots he face (including 17 in the final frame) to earn his 1st shutout of the season. His defense played well in front of him (they blocked 20 shots to the Blues 4) for most of the night (3rd period thoughts to follow below), but let's give the credit to the #1 star of the game; Budaj played a hell of a game.
The Avs came out firing in this one, putting up 13 shots on Chris Mason in the 1st period. I saw mention somewhere that Joe Sacco is looking for his team to fire more, and Blues' reporter Bernie Federko was between the benches during the game and indeed said that Sacco was emphasizing this during the game. Despite the solid first period play, it looked like the Avalanche weren't going to have anything to show for it, especially when Mason made a stupendous glove save behind a screen on John-Michael Liles on a late first-period powerplay. Thankfully, on the faceoff immediately after this save, the Avs won the draw, got the puck back to Liles who dished to Kyle Quincey who fired a shot/pass to the net that Chris Stewart deflected into the top corner with just 11 seconds to go in the first.
That would be enough, but the Avs would tack on a few more. At 6:08 of the 2nd, Stastny scored a controversial goal set up by Wolski and Stewart. Wolski took advantage of a sloppy line change by the Blues and carried the puck in down the left wing. The Blues were scrambling to get back in position, and Stewart found space in front of the net. Wolski and Stewart exchanged passed and then David Backes cleared Wolski out of the crease...but he ended up running Wolski into Mason. Stastny came in late and tapped the puck into an empty net. The Blues were outraged, feeling that Wolski interfered with Mason. I've given up trying to figure out what is goalie interference and what isn't, but let's just say I was kind of surprised that one was allowed to stand, even if it's Backes' own stupid fault that Mason was taken out.
The Avs made it 3-0 later in the period, with Stewart deflecting a point shot into the net for the second time in the game (this time, it was Liles taking the shot). Stewart picked up his first 2-goal game of his career. He has 12 points in his last 9 games. Perhaps more importantly, he has 8 points in the 5 games since the David Jones injury, helping to fill a critical void. Matt Duchene effectively iced the game in the 3rd when Wojtek Wolski intercepted a pass and bumped it ahead to Duchene who skated in and fired a wrister through Mason's 5-hole. That goal was Downy soft on Mason's part, but was still a pretty slick shot for Duchene (who otherwise had a quiet night). It was also Wolski's 3rd point in the game. He's been taking a lot of heat this year, but he now has 30 points in 32 games, well on his way to a career year (his high is 50 points). As of right now, he's 19th in the league in scoring, tied with guys like Iginla, Nash and Zetterberg.
The Avs play in the 3rd period continues to mystify me. Actually, after the strong 1st period, the Avs managed just 9 shots the rest of the way- 6 in the 2nd and 3 in the 3rd. Luckily, they made those shots count and Budaj made some big saves to preserve the shutout, but it wasn't very pretty to watch. The Avs didn't look sharp in the 3rd - pucks were turned over in the neutral zone, battles to the puck were lost, etcetera etcetera. I wonder, could it be a matter of fatigue? While I like the concept of Joe Sacco using the guys who've played the best in the 3rd, I wonder if using just 3 lines in the final frame is the right idea, especially with a lead. Marek Svatos, Matt Hendricks and David Koci had about 4 minutes of ice time in the 3rd period. While those guys aren't exactly Selke award candidates, a couple of timely shifts in the 3rd to spell our other players might help. Maybe it's not fatigue, but I'd really like for someone to figure it out soon so that it can be fixed; the Avs won't always have an ace like Peter Budaj between the pipes. (and...scene).