Colorado returned home after the 6-5 OT score-a-thon in Calgary and find a suprisingly successful Columbus Blue Jackets team waiting for them. Craig Anderson's leg/knee injury kept him in the pressbox and Peter Budaj got his second consecutive start for the young season. Coach Joe Sacco (not feeling too good himself) decided to roll with 7 defensemen for this home game. The Avs entered the game with a 1-2 record at home and were hoping to deliver some Devil's Night terrors on the BJ's. The blueberry third jerseys also made their first appearance this season and I was worried that they would be as terror-inducing as last season. (OK, I'll try to reign in the Halloween puns from here on out...)
In a somewhat scary first few minutes, the Avalanche come out flat and generate more horrible defensive zone play, especially behind their own net. Budaj is up to the task however and even when the Avs were getting outshot by a 2-1 (10-5 at one point) margin for the burgeoning first, he stood strong making some nice saves and seemed to be seeing the puck exceptionally well.
The Avs struck first as the Matt Duchene, David Jones, Milan Hejduk line put on a hand-eye coordination demonstration with the Duke picking a puck out of the air on his backhand and passing it to Jones who puts it in a nominally empty net as C-bus netminder Steve Mason was still following the bouncing ball on the other side of the ice. This shift and goal was a sign of things to come as the Duchene line spent the majority of the night putting on forechecking and puck-possession clinics in the Columbus end of the ice.
Ryan O'Reilly took a penalty not long after and we got a chance to see the PK early in the game. Watching T.J. Galiardi's extremely high motor and Daniel Winnick subtle penalty-kill skill set are fun, all things considered (you know, being down a man and all). Also noticable to me in the game was the turnover machine known as Kyle Cumiskey. I counted at least three instances in the first period where he turned it over fairly easily behind or near his own net. Others made mistakes in the first as well, but Budaj was there to bail guys out, like Liles after a bad turnover behind the net led to a point blank shot from an uncovered forechecker in the middle of the slot.
The second period saw the Avalanche explode for three goals as Chris Stewart continued his hot streak when he potted a Paul Stastny pass/rebound on a 5-on-3 man advantage. Halfway through the period recent call-up David Liffiton scored his first NHL goal with a bomb of a shot from the point that Mason never saw. 44 seconds later a spinning, falling-on-his-backhand Paul Stastny slipped one far-side on Mason from just below the left face-off circle. Mason would get a chance to catch his breath in the thin air as he was done for the night. Mathieu Garon entered the game to help steady the BJ's with just over half the time gone in the game.
The second also saw Ryan Wilson dropping the gloves with Derek Dorsett after Dorsett took a few too many whacks at Budaj's glove hand. Speaking of Budaj's glove hand (that's called a segue in the journalism biz) he got a chance to flash the leather after a bad Holos giveaway at the blueline sprung Rick Nash on a breakaway. Nash went upstairs and Boots' leather was there waiting for him.
The third period was fairly even to start with a lot of give and take on both ends, but both goalies played well. The Avs got another 2-man advantage about 2 1/2 minutes in but wide shots and maybe too much patience don't result in much. Wilson managed to lay down a good hit mid-way through the third and we were treated to more Galiardicus tenacity and puck-possession demonstrations by Duchene and Co. That line is clicking on all cylinders right now and it appears that the Duke is helping to drive that bus. About six minutes into the third, Winnick carried the puck into the offensive zone, got stood up, maintained possession, made a heady drop pass to a supporting Wilson who threw it down low to Cody McLeod. McLeod tried a return pass to Wilson on the far side, but the Columbus defenseman had seen enough and kicked the puck (slowly) into his own net instead of letting Wilson get the goal.
More bad blood in the third resulted in Chris Stewart trying to chase down a guy which somehow ended in a line-wide scrum with the Avs picking up the extra penalty. Passive PK on the right side give Nash time to thread a pass to Derrick Brassard in the slot for the quick one-time wrist shot through Budaj's five-hole as he moves to the center of his crease. That was probably the first time all game that Columbus had three clean passes in a row connect. It spoiled the shutout bid by Budaj, but he played a strong game allowing one goal on 34 shots. The Avs couldn't seem to make up their mind in the third on whether they were forechecking and applying pressure or if they were sitting on the lead. Kinda schizo and lead to a pretty unbalanced (flow-wise) third. Coulda been the plan, who knows. The result was a big important home win and a much better defensive game from the Avalanche.
Top forward lines were pretty much set all night, with Duchene getting the majority of the double shift duties for the missing forward:
Defense Pairings were somewhat fluid as they rolled seven until the third period where Cumiskey appeared to have earned door-opening privileges for the period.
- Dorsett and Cody Mcleod kinda-sorta got into it in the waning seconds and both got the gate. Unsure if that means a mandatory game suspension.
- The PP was 1-6 while the PK was 3-4.
- The Avs were on the losing end of the faceoff battle (44%) and overall shots (31-34). They did manage 16 shots in the 2nd, but were content with just 8 in the third which was the opposite of the Blue Jackets effort (8 in 2nd 15 in 3rd).
- Hejduk picked up his 349th and 350th points making the highest scoring player in the history of the Pepsi Center.
- Budaj left some rebounds in tight throughout the game, but his defense was there with him and cleared away the dangerous stuff. Perhaps they all needed to get a game or two under their belts playing together to get their rhythm?
- Just putting this out there, but Radar was a better d-man than Cummers.
- SoS' First Star interview (Budaj #2, Liffiton #3) was hilarious. When Kyle Keefe mentioned that the offense looked good, a grinning Stastny replied "That's what we do, #@$^&%!" OK, maybe he didn't cuss, but it was pretty awesome.
- The final score was 5-1.
Next game isn't until Thursday against the Canucks at home in the Pepsi Center.
Dater's recap at the Denver Post.