What is that old hockey adage? Your best players have to be your best players? That's the one and it held true tonight as the Avalanche fell 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. A simple look at the box score doesn't tell the whole story, but it does illuminate a big problem in tonights game.
Phil Kessel: 2 Goals, 8 Shots, and 23:11 TOI
James van Riemsdyk: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 4 Shots, 20:00 TOI
The Tyler Bozak: 2 Assists, 2 Shots, 20:42 TOI
Jonathan Bernier: 35-37, .946 SV% (Editor's note: He wasn't the Leaves goalie tonight).
Paul Stasnty: 0-0-0, 2 PIM, 2 Shots, -2, 3:24 PPTOI
Ryan O'Reilly: 0-0-0, 1 Shot, -1
Matt Duchene: 0-0-0, 2 PIM, 4 Shots, -1, 2:13 PPTOI
Semyon Varlamov: 7-10, .700 SV%
Your best players have to be your best players. Theirs were, ours weren't. That's kind of the moral of the story here. Matt Duchene had a number of golden opportunities in the first period to give the Avs a 1-0 lead, but Phil Kessel scored first on a flukey goal instead. Paul Stastny had an opportunity to make it 4-2 just 15 seconds into the third period and missed the net, but James van Reimsdyk and Phil Kessel cashed in on their opportunities to make it 2-0 and 4-0 respectively. James Reimer was absolutely peppered in net early and late but made a number of key saves, while Semyon Varlamov games up a goal on the Maple Leafs 3rd shot and 3 goals on 10 shots in total. That's pretty much that, but let's break it down by period.
The Avalanche came out flying in this one. They absolutely dominated the puck possession game and put a number of high quality shots on net early in the game. Matt Duchene was particularly dangerous in the early part of the game, using his speed to draw the Toronto defense out of position on a number of occasions, but he and his line-mates were unable to translate that movement into an early Avalanche goal. The Avalanche continued their early dominance, earning a power play just 81 seconds into the game. Although the Avalanche managed to possess the puck well (despite Ryan Wilson killing a large portion of the power play with his poor puck work on the point), the power play was not particularly dangerous.
With the Avalanche buzzing all over the Leafs net, it was a lazy line change and some bad luck that gave Toronto its first lead of the game. As the Avalanche changed lines, Maple Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf cleared the puck to the back right corner of the Avs zone (recently vacated by an Avs d-man at the end of his shift) where Phil Kessel beat out Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson for the icing and slid a snail of a shot past Semyon Varlamov. The combination of the SOG (4-1), lucky icing, and flubbed shot from Phil Kessel made this goal something of a dagger in the heart.
The Avalanche were not deterred (yet) and came back eager to respond and put a puck past James Reimer. They quickly drew another penalty, but failed to execute on the power play a second time. The best chance on the man-advantage came when a centering puck hit Gabe Landeskog in the high slot, but the winger fired the puck high and wide of the net. The Avalanche kept up the pressure, leading the Maple Leafs 11-2 in shots on goal.
With just over 5 minutes left in the period, the
Maple Leafs Phil Kessel found the puck again, beating Landeskog across the blueline and driving the right side of Varlamov's net. Varlamov stopped Kessel's first shot before squaring up and making a very difficult save on Tyler Bozak's rebound attempt. If there's one bright spot in this game outside of Nathan MacKinnon, it's the fact that Phil Kessel didn't have 9 points tonight. He was a constant scoring threat.
With 2:32 left on the clock, Matt Duchene took a hooking penalty and sent the Maple Leafs on the power play for the first time in the game. The Leafs established possession in the Avalanche zone and moved the puck along the blueline to Dion Phaneuf who fired the puck on net. Semyon Varlamov made the first save, but Nick Holden and Jan Hejda had a weak clearing attempt, sliding the puck right to a wide open Cody Franson on the point. Franson stepped into the shot and fired a one-timer off James van Reimsdyk and into the Avalanche net. 2-0 Maple Leafs. Ugh. To top off an unlucky 1st period, Paul Stastny took a hooking minor with just over a minute left in the fist frame, putting the Avalanche on the penalty kill through the beginning of the second.
You would think that after pushing the pace for much of the first period and catching a string of bad luck, the Avalanche might come out flying in the second period to try and cut the lead down early. Instead, it was Toronto that took charge of the game early on. The puck spent most of its time in the Avalanche defensive zone even after the Avalanche killed off Paul Stastny's minor penalty and it didn't take long before the Maple Leafs made it 3-0. After Tyson Barrie was beat to a puck in the corner, Joffrey Lupul took possession and drew a pair of Avalanche forwards to him. As a result, Nathan MacKinnon lost control of the passing lane to Jake Gardiner at the point. Sure enough, Lupul sent the puck to Gardiner who fired a shot through a screen where Nazem Kadri would tip the puck past Semyon Varlamov and chase him from the Avalanche net.
J.S. Giguere was shaky early on in his first relief appearance of the season, and Jan Hejda bailed him out twice stopping pucks headed for an empty net. It took under 3:00 in the Avalanche net for J.S. Giguere to surrender the game's 4th goal, though it's difficult to blame him for it. After losing the puck while driving the crease, James van Reimsdyk climbed up J.S. Giguere's arm and put his cup right in Giguere's face. With both feet in the crease, van Reimsdyk used his stick to lift Giguere's glove hand out of the way while Phil Kessel fired the puck on net. Giguere was visibly upset with the refs after the interference non-call, but ,since a 20 second video review would "slow the game down too much," there was nothing the Avalanche could do to appeal the bad call.
The Avalanche's flat play continued for much of the period and, despite the Maple Leafs' lead, the Avalanche were outshot 15-9 in the second. With roughly 90 seconds left in the period, the Avalanche finally showed some signs of life when P.A. Parenteau and Nathan MacKinnon used their speed to take advantage of a bad Toronto line change and create a 2-on-1 opportunity. Parenteau patiently waited for Tim Gleason to bite on the shot before saucing the puck over to Nathan MacKinnon, who deftly rolled his wrists and sent the puck top shelf past Reimer. MacKinnon's hands are ridiculous.
The Avalanche came out with enough fire early in the third period that, for at least a moment, I started to believe they could come back in this game. On the first shift of the period, John Mitchell fired a hard shot towards the Maple Leafs' net where Paul Stastny collected the rebound and, with an open net over Reimer's shoulder, fired the puck wide of the net. Reimer stood tall in the Toronto net and the Maple Leafs blocked a number of shots to maintain their 3 goal lead, but the Avalanche would not be denied. 5 minutes into the game, Max Talbot chased the puck into the Toronto zone and pressured Jake Gardiner into a bad no-look pass. Talbot intercepted the pass and sent the puck to the top of the right circle where Nathan MacKinnon was circling back into the Toronto zone. MacKinnon received the puck, faked a slapshot, and made a nice stick move before firing a wicked wrist shot over Reimer's glove and into the back of the net. To beat a goalie from that far out with a wrist shot over the glove is tough. Once again, MacKinnon's hands are ridiculous. His shot is also ridiculous.
That left the Avalanche with 14:52 to close the two goal gap. The Avs outshot Toronto 17-7 in the third period and drew their 4th power play of the night when Matt Duchene was held up splitting the Toronto defense. A great effort at the end, but not enough to overcome the four goal deficit. The Avalanche may have caught some bad luck in the first period, but it was their lethargic second period that put the game out of reach, even with a 17 shot third period effort. With just under 3 minutes left on the clock, Patrick Roy boldly pulled J.S. Giguere for the extra skater. Unfortunately, the Avalanche failed to win the ensuing draw and, after a few seconds spent scrambling around the ice, former Av Jay McClement iced the game with an empty netter.
MHH Three Stars of the Night:
1. Nathan MacKinnon - 2 Goals, 5 Shots
2. J.S. Giguere - 19-20, .950 SV% in relief of Varlamov (including a few tough, tough saves on Kessel)
3. P.A. Parenteau - 1 Assist and some good movement in his return to the lineup
In Case You Missed It:
- This was Varlamov's first loss in regulation since December 10th. He was 11-0-5 in the franchise best streak.
- Matt Duchene, meanwhile, has not scored an even strength goal since a 2 goal effort December 12th against the Winnipeg Jets. That's 19 games, or over 1 month, or 23% of an NHL season. In that time Duchene has scored three goals - two on the power play and one into the empty net with just 2 seconds left on the clock. Is it luck? Is it a nagging injury? Is it linemates? Is it confidence? The only thing we know for sure is that it's not good enough.
- In his postgame interview Patrick Roy said that Alex Tanguay will return to the Avalanche lineup Friday in Florida. There will be considerable debate about the lines, but, considering the production of Nathan MacKinnon's line tonight, I would think Roy may go with:
The Avalanche travel to Florida Friday in hopes of tying up their season series against the Florida Panthers.