Two of the hottest teams in the NHL faced off tonight on Versus, and surprisingly, it did't involve the a team from Pennsylvania or New York as it seems has become common place these days.
Early on, the Avalanche dominated play. They held the Leafs in their own zone for most of the first four minutes of the game and even drew an early slashing call against Joffrey Lupul but weren't able to cash in on the early power play chance.
As the 1st period wore on, both teams were getting great chances, but Reimer and Giguere kept their teams even through one period. Both the Avs and Leafs brought a substantial amount of energy to the ice as was evident all game long.
It was mentioned in the 1st intermission - just after I had mentioned it to a friend via text - that it seemed like the Leafs were surprised by the total team speed the Avs have this season.
As the second period got underway, the Maple Leafs wanted to get off to a quick start and take back some of the momentum from the speedy Avalanche, and that's just what they did. Just 19 seconds into the second period, Phil Kessel sent a twisted wrister that seemed to dip as it glanced off Erik Johnson's stick, past Jean-Sebastian Giguere for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
True to form so far this season, the Avs didn't let one goal get into their heads, and they put their foot back on the gas pedal and continued to ramp up the pressure on the Maple Leafs. And it paid dividends very quickly.
One of the biggest differences that I've noticed between this year's team and last year's is that they do not give opposing teams the neutral zone easily, forcing them to try to make a perfect pass or just chip it into the zone. More often than not, though, it leads to a turnover in the neutral zone; that's exactly what happened leading up to Ryan O'Reilly's neutral zone steal and sweet drop pass to Daniel Winnik and his low hard shot right between the legs of James Reimer.
Another big difference for this year's team is their incredible success rate on the power play. Even though they started off the season 0 for 10, they have gone on to cash in on 7 of their last 12 power plays (1 for 2 tonight), including Milan Hejduk scoring his 3rd goal, and 2nd PPG, of the season with just under 6 minutes to play in the 2nd period.
Unfortunately for Avs fans, the Maple Leafs would not go quietly into the brisk, fall night in Ontario and managed to get the game tied up with less than 5 minutes left in the game on a somewhat controversial goal.
After keeping the puck in the offensive zone, on what looked to me like a high stick, Nikolai Kulemin weaved his way through the Avalanche defense and picked a rebound off of Giggy's pads and tucked away the game-tying goal.
With so little time remaining in the game, it seemed both teams were content with getting the game to overtime and at least securing one point in the standings.
Heading into overtime, the Avs had secured at least 9 out of a 10 possible points on this 5 game road trip to get the season started. Then it was pointed out that the Avs had never swept a 5 game road trip...ever. Not sure if any of the players knew that or not, but they came out of the overtime intermission on a mission to get the second point and get out of Toronto a perfect 5-0 on the road trip.
Heading into overtime, I was going over my notes from the game and kept seeing a pattern of what the boys in burgundy and blue were doing most of the game: winning most of the battles along the boards, making smart decisions with the puck, and, when the opportunities presented themselves, throwing the puck at the net and crashing it. They are playing a very simple game right now, and I believe that's why they are playing with so much confidence.
Doing the exact same things I talked about above, Paul Stastny was able to win a battle for the puck along the boards and feed it to the point where Kyle Quincey just threw the puck on net. Then it was easy pickings for David Jones to kick the rebound from skate to stick and bury it, completing the first 5-0 road trip in franchise history.
Derek's Three Stars of the Game:
3rd Star: Daniel Winnik (1G)
2nd Star: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (27 saves against his former team)
1st Star: David Jones (GWG)
- Lindstrom - Duchene - Hejduk
- Jones - Stastny - Kobasew
- Landeskog - O'Reilly - Winnik
- McLeod - McClement - Galiardi
- Hejda - Johnson
- Quincey - O'Brien
- Wilson - O'Byrne
The Avs come back to the Pepsi Center for the first of a home-and-home against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.