During his retirement speech tonight, Peter Forsberg joked that one of the highlights of his career was always beating the Red Wings. It didn't quite work out according to the script tonight. Although the Avalanche played a fairly solid opening game, they ultimately gave the Red Wings a few too many chances and lost 3-0 at the Pepsi Center opener.
The Avalanche honored Forsberg with a great pre-game ceremony (best moment: Foppa walking down through the stands, shaking hands with the fans before circling around the rink on the ice) and the emotion appeared to carry over into the game. The Avs came out...I wanted to type "strong" there, but I think "solid" might be a better word. They got some good chances early and the new supersized defense kept Detroit opportunities to a minimum. We did see a bit of the downside to the new physical club, with 3 interference penalties in the 1st period. Thankfully, the Avalanche PK was up to the task and killed off all three. Yes, I just typed that.
New goalie Semyon Varlamov was terrific in net for the Avalanche and Red Wings backup Ty Conklin was his equal at the other end. Halfway through the game, the game was still knotted up at 0, and I made a mental note that the Avalanche had played almost a perfect game through 30 minutes and had nothing to show for it. I was worried that things would end poorly.
As the 2nd half of the game wore on, the Avs started to show some cracks defensively. Late in the 2nd, the Wings got a 4-on-2 rush and Johan Franzen blazed a beautiful laser off a Jiri Hudler drop pass into the back of the net.
That 1-0 lead was really all that was needed, as Detroit put the clamp down in the 3rd period. The Avalanche recorded 9 shots in the 3rd, but it sure didn't feel like it; the puck seemed to be in the Avs' zone for the much of that final frame. Around the 12 minute mark, the puck got past a pinching Erik Johnson on the half boards and Jan Hejda misplayed it sliding over on the blueline to cover. That put the Wings on a break the other way with Hejda and Stastny as the defenders. Pavol Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg took advantage of the mismatch and played some pitch and catch before Zetterberg rifled it past a defenseless Varlamov. Datsyuk then added an empty netter to seal the deal. Varly had a great first game in an Avalanche unipron; it's too bad the Avs couldn't get a couple of goals to help him out.
Another player who had a good first game: Gabriel Landeskog. He was noticeable from his first shift to his last shift making some big hits and recording 5 shots on net. He played on the PK and PP and was, I thought, the Avs' best player tonight despite one big turnover in his own end. If this one game is any indication, this kid is definitely ready for NHL action...although I did notice the Wings got much more physical with him later in the game. Other Avs having good games: Kyle Quincey, who threw some bodies around and made some good defensive plays like the BMF of old and Jan Hejda who looked generally solid defensively and had some big shots on net as well.
Meanwhile, I didn't love the game by Erik Johnson. He still looks shaky with the puck in his own end and he's leaving his position to chase down puck carriers way too often for my taste. I don't know if this is by design or not, but I feel like more bad things will result from that than good. And I feel that 2nd goal is on him way more than Hejda. Also, continuing a confusing trend from last year, he and Hejda appeared to be switching sides from time to time. Hopefully, someone smarter than me can tell me why they would do that, because it seems like a set play of some sort.
Overall, there were several things to like about the game, especially the first half. But the defensive mistakes as the game wore on put the Avs in a hole and the Avs' offense made Ty Conklin look like Lord Jimmy Howard. So, while there were definitely some positive signs, it's clear there's still some work to be done.
Joe Sacco was pretty consistent with the lines all night long. The only time I noticed changes was after a PP or PK that screwed with the normal rotation.
- Mueller - Duchene - Hejduk
- Jones - Stastny - Kobasew
- Landeskog - O'Reilly - Winnik
- McLeod - McClement - Galiardi
- Hejda - Johnson
- Quincey - O'Brien
- Wilson - O'Byrne
Healthy scratches tonight: Porter, Hunwick, Lindstrom. Yip is on the IR
It was also mentioned during the game that Mark Olver is actually with the Monsters now, although he will have to remain on the Avs IR list until he is healthy.
- The Avalanche owned the faceoff circle, winning 67% of the draws. McClement (78%), Duchene (71%) and O'Reilly (67%) all had big nights
- The Avs blocked just 6 shots all night
- The last time the Avalanche lost a home opener and made the playoffs was the '98-99 season.
The Avalanche kick off a key 5-game road trip in Boston on Monday followed by games against Columbus, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.