In the comments threads across MHH this week there has been considerable buzz about the play of Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden. He's played some very good hockey lately and the biggest question surrounding the 26 year old defenseman was "can he keep this play up?" Well, tonight was an enormous step in the right direction, more on that later.
This game was no Vancouver-Calgary brawl, but things did get heated early on as Cody McLeod and Eric Nystrom dropped the gloves just 49 seconds into the match. The fight itself wasn't much to watch (a lot of no look, missed punches), but it sure set a physical tone for the rest of the evening. The Avalanche were first to establish some good puck movement and were rewarded early in the game as Nick Holden pinched down to the crease and collected a Paul Stastny rebound for his first goal of the night. The Avalanche continued to click offensively throughout the first period, with multiple strong shifts in the Nashville zone. Midway through the period John Mitchell made a beautiful play, skating the puck point-to-point. Just as he vacated the right side, he left a drop pass for Jan Hejda who fired an absolute canon past Devan Dubnyk to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead. The Avs struck one last time just 38 seconds later when Paul Stastny drove the high slot and fired a shot on net. Dubnyk stopped the shot but the rebound squirted out to Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs rookie found Stastny again in the high slot, he sauced a beautiful pass to the right circle where Gabriel Landeskog would fire the puck home.
That's all she wrote. Avs up 3-0 at the end of the first, they'd add a few insurance goals and the Preds would sneak one in late to break the shutout. A re-capper could only be so lucky.
Instead, the Avalanche went full turtle in their second period and let Nashville jump all over them. Early in the period Ryan Wilson took an ill advised holding penalty before running over Semyon Varlamov, a move that definitely doesn't help his position in the lineup with Nate Guenin's return looming. The Avalanche did an excellent job on the penalty kill, but were unable to turn the momentum back against Nashville. After outshooting the Predators 14-8 in the first period, the Avs lost the shots on goal battle 11-6 in the second.
The second period concluded with some nonsense from league renowned
tough guy big mouth punk Paul Gaustad. With about 5 minutes to play in the second, Gabriel Landeskog laid a hard hit on a Predators player deep in the Predators zone. The referee immediately put his arm up and the Predators began their delayed penalty. Rather than play the puck, 6'5" 223lb Paul Gaustad skated 200 feet down the ice to instigate a fight with the Avalanche's 6'1" 204lb Captain with a history of concussions. Before Gaustad could drop the gloves or even grab Landeskog's jersey, Erik Johnson (still an inch shorter than Gaustad) grabbed Gaustad's jersey to keep him off the Captain. As Mark Rycroft broke down in the post game, Gaustad punched Erik Johnson in the face with the glove on (unprovoked) and then removed his gloves before Johnson in the fight. Johnson did his best to protect himself and wrestle Gaustad to the ice. The result of all this? A 5 ON 3 POWER PLAY FOR THE PREDATORS. The penalty on Landeskog was deserved, but when a "tough guy" guy skates 200 feet to instigate a fight on a smaller player WHILE WEARING A VISOR and DRAWS A PENALTY as a result? There is something seriously, seriously wrong with the way the officials are managing the game. On a personal note, I'd like to see how tough Gaustad is when he has to fight someone with a few career bouts under their belt (something he hasnt done in years). Some of you may remember that he hinted at revenge back in October when Steve Downie injured Roman Josi on a clean hit.
If you don't think the call on Johnson was absolutely egregious please imagine what would happen if Patrick Bordeleau of Cody McLeod followed a Predators' player skated 200 feet to instigate a fight with the opposing teams unwilling captain. Thought so.
The Predators scored their first of the night on the two minute 5-on-3 opportunity. The Avalanche penalty kill had a breakdown deep in their own zone and lost track of Mike Fisher along the goal line. David Legwand fired a cross ice pass to Fisher, who centered the puck to Patric Hornqvist in the crease. 3-1 Avalanche. The Predators kept rolling and spent the remainder of the second period in the Avalanche's zone. Shea Weber nearly cut the lead to one when he fired a rocket from the point. The shot was tipped past Varlamov but missed the second period buzzer by a few tenths of a second. In Rycrofts words:
I know for a fact that Weber has a 104 mph slapshot, but it needed to be 106 mph there
Period the Third:
Still shaking off the near Weber goal, the Avalanche briefly abandoned their third period turtling strategy and peppered Dubnyk with shots early. Just 2:31 into the final frame, John Mitchell drew 2 Predators players to him on the half boards before passing the puck to the point. There, Nick Holden fired a blast straight through Dubnyk where it trickled into the back of the net. Shortly thereafter, the Avalanche did the impossible and drew a penalty. On the ensuing power play Ryan O'Reilly made a beautiful centering pass to Nick Holden in the high slot, who barely missed on the hattrick when he fired the puck wide of the net. The Avalanche would not be denied however, as Matt Duchene picked up the puck and sniped the bad angle shot for his 17th goal of the season, and first goal in 13 contests. From there Duchene performed the most violent "monkey off his back" goal celebration I have seen in a long time (Duchene was clearly not a fan of that monkey).
It was something of an odd resolution for Matt Duchene. He had 5 shots on goal and 2 posts last game, another 3 shots on goal and 2 posts the game before and 7 shots on goal and a post against Ottawa last week. In each of those games he had beautiful opportunities and couldn't put the goal away. Tonight? 1 shot on goal, a -2, and he scores on a terrible angle. Hopefully this breaks the mental block for Duchene and he can start scoring consistently again, because the Avalanches' top centerman hasn't scored at even strenght since December 12th, that's 18 games folks. Yikes.
From that point on the Avalanche went full turtle. Two minutes after Duchene's goal the Predators would score their second goal of the night on a beautiful play by the Predators' top defensive pairing. She Weber collected the puck at the point and sent a one-touch pass to a pinching Roman Josi, who touch passed the puck towards Semyon Varlamov for Nick Spalding. Craig Smith tapped the rebound home to cut the lead to 3.
With 7 minutes left in the game, Semyon Varlamov sent the puck careening around the boards on a clearing attempt. Gabriel Landeskog misjudged the clear and lost the puck along the boards where it squirted out for a Ryan Ellis slapshot which beat Varlamov and cut the lead to 2. From there this game was all Predators all the time. Semyon Varlamov made a few key saves down the stretch but the Predators would score one more before all was said and done. With just under 3:00 left in the game, Viktor Stalberg shot the puck towards the Avalanche net from the high slot, the puck rebounded off an Avalanche skate and back to Stalberg, where he set up Roman Josi for a wrist shot through a screen. The goal was remarkably similar to Jan Hejda's 1st period slapper, as both were created by beautiful plays from Mitchell and Stalberg to free up space at the point. The last 2:00 were certainly a scramble, but the Avalanche held on to the win. With their 4th consecutive victory, the Avalanche moved within two points of the St. Louis Blues. Even more impressive, the Avalanche tied the Blackhawks in wins and passed them in ROW's with 2 games in hand. Only the Hawks 11 overtime losses separate them from the Avalanche in the standings.
MHH 3 Stars of the Game:
1. Nick Holden (2G 1A 5 SOG 9 Hits and 22:30 TOI. An all around good game for the Avs D-man)
2. Paul Stastny (2A in his return to the lineup)
3. Matt Duchene (1GWG I give it to him for finally getting the monkey off his back on the bad angle goal)
In Case You Missed It:
- Nick Holden led the Avalanche in shots on goal
- 9 goals were scored in the game, 5 of them by defensemen
- Shea Weber almost beat the buzzer at the end of the 2nd period to make the game 3-2, but the clock won that race
- The Avalanche got 2:00 of power play time to 6:00 for the Predators (including 2:00 5-on-3). I don't know if they will ever win the officiating battle inside of a game. EVER.
- Nathan MacKinnon 2 assists, Seth Jones 0 points and a -3. GG Nashville.
Quote of the Night:
Re: Vancouver Calgary Nonsense
O'Keefe: "Has there ever been a game where they just say, hey, we're going to need to play this one another time"
Rycroft: "Thats a question we'll have to ask Peter McNabb"
PA Parenteau hopes to make his return to the lineup as the Avalanche head home to finish their season series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.