On the heels of a convincing win over the Washington Capitals the Avalanche's recent string of good luck finally caught up with them, as they outplayed a team with a losing record and lost to a hot third string goalie. While it's still early in the season and there are no "must-wins" quite yet, this was a huge opportunity missed by the Avalanche as they prepare to enter a string of very difficult games against the top of the Western Conference
In the first minute of the game Ryan O'Reilly stole the puck from a Carolina defender on the forecheck, drove the net and fired a shot past Carolina goalie Justin Peters. The puck dinged off the post, hit Peters in the back and was knocked away along the goal line as Peters reached behind him with the glove to make an outstanding save. That's pretty much how things were going to be all night tonight. Five minutes later PA Parenteau was stonewalled by Peters on a forehand backhand move on the breakaway as the Canes third string goalie continued to stymie any attempt at offense from the Avalanche.
The Hurricanes outshot the Avalanche early on, but the Avalanche certainly had the more dangerous offensive opportunities in the first period. Just as Peter McNab was gushing over that exact fact Nate Guenin and Nick Holden had their first major defensive breakdown of the night. Nick Holden failed to collect the puck behind his own zone where he was beat by Patrick Dwyer. Nate Guenin locked his feet in place and poked at Dwyer as he drove the goal-line and fed a wide open Nathan Gerbe. Varlamov made a tough first save but the Avs defense was unable to clear the rebound, leaving Jordan Staal with a wide open net. Carolina 1 - Colorado 0.
Fitting with this evenings narrative, the Avalanche responded with some good offensive pressure but couldn't find a way to score. Jamie McGinn had the best chance of the late 1st period when he received a pass in the high slot with time and fired a hard wrist shot just wide of the net.
The second period started right where the first left off: with journeymen defensman Nick Holden and Nate Guenin getting absolutely victimized by the Hurricanes offense. Just 20 second into the period Nate Guenin abandoned the defensive zone to finish a check at center ice and left Nick Holden and Matt Duchene on defense. Holden failed to pressure the Carolina's Nathan Gerbe as he entered the zone and instead dropped to his knees to try and prevent the centering pass. With no poke check in sight, Gerbe had all the time and space he needed to feed Patrick Dwyer for the Hurricane's second goal of the night. Carolina 2 - Colorado 0.
Over the next 10 minutes, Semyon Varlamov made some very nice saves and the Hurricanes began to sit back, tilting the ice back in the Avs favor. The Avalanche caught their first big break when Radek Dvorak was called for holding just under 14 minutes into the period. The Avs took advantage of their first power play of the game and established a good cycle down low in the Carolina zone. After receiving the below the goal line Paul Stastny sent a pass to a wide open Nathan MacKinnon near the right faceoff dot. MacKinnon's shot squeaked through the Carolina netminder where Paul Stastny was able to tap the puck into an empty net.
The rest of the second period was all Avs and more notably all MacKinnon. The Avs top line had a long shift in the the offensive zone including a near goal by Matt Duchene on the rush. Duchene made a nice move to the backhand but was stopped by the glove of Peters. The Avs did their best to tuck in the loose puck, but the officials were unfortunately quick with the whistle.
In an attempt to jumpstart the team's offense, Patrick Roy moved Nathan MacKinnon back to the Stastny line swapping him with Jamie McGinn. On his first shift with his new linemates MacKinnon made an excellent deke on Andrej Sekera to draw a hooking penalty. After the first power play spent a full minute in the Carolina zone and had an excellent chance when the puck squirted free to Ryan O'Reilly in the slot. The Avs winger was tackled before he could get a shot on net. On the next shift Nathan MacKinnon came out and absolutely dominated the Hurricanes PK unit, but to no avail. He had a spinning backhand shot in the slot early on and followed it up with an incredible chance as the power play expired, firing the puck on net, kicking the rebound back to his stick and firing another shot as he skated the width of the net. Peter's absolutely robbed MacKinnon on the second shot sending the Avalanche to the intermission down 2-1. They couldnt do enough to tie the score, but the late flurry of Avalanche offense did put the Avalanche ahead on shots: 24-23.
The beginning of the third period was absolutely dreadful hockey to watch. The Hurricanes turtled badly and committed 100% to their neutral zone trap. The first 10 minutes of this period were filled with offsides, dump and chase and icings galore: so basically all the things fans come to the rink to watch. 12 minutes into the period the Avalanche finally started to establish some offensive possession, but found it impossible to score because there were almost always four or more red jerseys in the Carolina crease at all times. With 4:30 seconds left in the game Ryan O'Reilly collected a Matt Duchene rebound in the slot and missed a wide open net.
The Avs were absolutely dominant at the end of the period firing shot after shot at the Carolina net but Peters stood tall on every opportunity. In the final minute Patrick Roy made a ummm.... "different" kind of decision, pulling Semyon Varlamov despite the faceoff occuring deep in the Avalanche's own zone. That's some kind of bizarre faith in Duchene on the faceoff (especially since the Avs lost the faceoff battle 26-36 and Duchene was a woeful 35%). Duchene won the faceoff and after collecting the puck the Avs got one last opportunity on a 3 on 2 rush but were unable to put the puck past Peters.
Game over: 2-1 Hurricanes.
MHH Three Stars of the Game:
1. Justin Peters: 33 saves on 34 shots for a .971 SV%. Sure didnt look like a third stringer tonight.
2. Nathan MacKinnon: 9 shots on goal and an assist, the Avalanche rookie looks to be on the verge of breaking through.
3. Patrick Dwyer: 1 GWG and an assist. He was a major contributor on both Carolina goals.
Honorable Mentions: Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny
- Nathan MacKinnon had one of his best games yet. Good to see him build on a good game against Washington Saturday.
- Nate Guenin on the other hand.... You've got to wonder if he needs a benching because it's just not working lately. #FreeTysonBarrie
- The Avalanche haven't won in Carolina since 2008, which is one of those dumb sports facts that makes 0 sense (explain that advanced stats!).
- Avalanche fans now understand what it feels like to be every team that has played against J.S. Giguere this season. (Especially Pittsburgh and Boston).
- If Roy and the Avs cant find a better way to respond to teams playing a neutral zone trap then this season could get very long and very boring.
- The Avs may have the most ROW's in the west, but they also have the fewest OT/SO points. They're going to have to find a way to get to overtime in games like this or teams like Chicago (4 loser points), San Jose (5) and Minnesota (4) are going to get away from them.
Next Up: The Avs head to St. Louis Thursday for their first game against the division powerhouse Blues.