Game 54 Recap: Avalanche Steamroll the Sabres

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche learn something about killer instinct, as they absolutely crush the Buffalo Sabres in their Olympic sendoff at the Pepsi Center.

Period the 1st:

The first 2 minutes of this game had me worried.  The Sabres had a nice little offensive shift and I thought: "ugh, am i going to have to recap a game where the Avs play down to their opponents and lose to the NHL's worst team?"  No, no I'm not, because after the first 10 seconds the Avalanche absolutely took over this game and toyed with the Sabres, putting 7 goals on the board and chasing possible U.S. Olympic starter, Ryan Miller.

It started off with Jamie McGinn, picked up his power forward game right where he left off on Thursday, crushing Christian Ehrhoff on his first shift of the night.  The Avalanche got the first shot of the game 3:00 into the contest when Nathan MacKinnon collected the puck behind Miller’s net and set Gabriel Landeskog up for a one timer in the slot, but Miller stood tall. Matt Duchene had the next solid chance for the Avalanche attempting a wraparound after McGinn freed up the puck behind the Sabres net with a good hit. Matt Duchene made a nice move into the scoring area, but Miller gave him nothing to shoot at.

The Avalanche took the first penalty of the night, when Nick Holden was called for some light holding on Brian Flynn just 4:48 into the first period.  The Avalanche killed off the penalty with ease and went back on the attack.  7:00 into the period the Avalanche got a very good shift in the offensive zone where PA Parenteau sent a beauty of a pass across the ice to a pinching Tyson Barrie. The shot was wide of the net, but the Avalanche reclaimed the puck and established a strong cycle in the offensive zone.  The Avalanche finally solved Ryan Miller late in the shift, when Nathan MacKinnon fanned on a shot towards the net.  The puck slipped away from MacKinnon, but Tyson Barrie grabbed the puck and fired a backhand top shelf  past Ryan Miller to make it 1-0.

Just a minute later the Avalanche got their first power play of the night, when Mike Weber inexplicably smacked Matt Duchene in the face with his stick, several feet away from the puck... Ok Weber.  The Avalanche's 4:00 power play was absolutely anemic, unable to possess the puck long in the Buffalo zone and unwilling to put any rubber towards Ryan Miller.  The highlight of the power play came with 1:00 left on the power play, when Nathan MacKinnon (6'0" 182lbs) absolutely trucked Tyler Myers (6'8" 219lbs) with a should check to the Buffalo defenseman’s chest.  Hit the gym Myers.

With just a dozen seconds left on the power play, Ryan O'Reilly took a check in the corner and fired a cross ice pass from his knees to Erik Johnson.  Johnson sent a nice hard pass towards the net where Jamie McGinn tipped the puck past Miller to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead.  Bad power play, gorgeous power play goal, and gorgeouser pass from the knees by Ryan O`Reilly.

From that point onward the Avalanche absolutely dominated the Sabres in the neutral zone and, as a result in the offensive zone. The Avalanche had a number of beautiful passing sequences including a cross ice saucer by P.A. Parenteau that Matt Duchene couldn’t quite hold on to as he streaked towards the empty half of the Sabres net.

The Avalanche would not be denied a 3 goal lead for long, however, as Nathan MacKinnon turned on the afterburners and blew by the Buffalo defense. It’s the same speed we’ve seen all season from Mackinnon, but with a newfound patience that just wasn’t there in the first 10-20 games of the season. MacKinnon, recognizing Buffalo forward Ville Leino caught back on defense flew down the right wing, and waited until Tyler Myers committed to the pass and dropped to his stomach. MacKinnon then skated past Myers and squeezed a pass cross ice to Gabriel Landeskog, who scored one of the easiest goals of his NHL career on the empty net tap-in. 3-0 good guys with 47 to play.

The Avalanche didn’t let their 3-0 lead slow things down in the first period and did well to keep the pressure on the Sabres for the remainder of the period. Nathan MacKinnon got the Avalanche back on the power play, juking Buffalo’s Philip Varone and receiving a high stick to the face in return. The Avs' second power play opportunity of the period was opposite of the first, lots of great movement and opportunities, but no goal.  The best chance on the power play came when Matt Duchene drove the net coming out of the corner and tried to put a backhand to the farside of the net. Duchene missed just wide after dancing through the Sabres defense #snakebit. The Avalanche’s best possession sequence on the power play came from some beautiful point management by the Erik Johnson P.A. Parenteau unit. Has PA been perfect so far tonight? No. But just like Tanguay, he contributed some passes in the first period that very few other guys on the team are capable of.

With 1:32 left on the clock John Mitchell took a hooking penalty, could the Sabres offense take over the game? Could Buffalo's big scorers take advantage of the Avalanche lead and come back? No. No they couldnt.

2nd Period:

The Avalanche killed off the remainder of the penalty before Gabe Landeskog took a very "meh" slashing penalty in the offensive zone to put the Sabres back on the power play.  Halfway through the Sabres power play Avalanche fans were treated to a hilarious game of keep away as John Mitchell stole the puck at center ice then deked through several Sabres before sending a pass back to the defense in his own zone. The sequence killed almost 40 seconds of the man advantage.

6 minutes into the period the Avalanche added to their lead with a giant bucket of warm fuzzies as Marc-Andre Cliche earned his first ever NHL goal.  Jamie McGinn, double shifted on the 4th line sent a hard shot just wide of the Sabres net, where Patrick Bordeleau grabbed the rebound and sent it behind Miller, and across the crease to Cliche.  Cliche tapped the puck in and went all XD.  The players on the ice mobbed Cliche and the bench absolutely exploded over the goal.  Cliche might have hands of stone, but this team sure does love him and the important penalty killing work he does.  Bordeleau grabbed the puck for Cliche before joining in the celly.

Just after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon drew another penalty when he blew by Christian Ehrhoff and forced another holding penalty.  The Avs didn't generate much, but as the power play expired Mitchell sent an incredible saucer pass floating past the Sabres defense. MacKinnon accelerated into the leading pass and drove the net hard but Ryan Miller made a very aggressive save, stacking the pads along the post.

8:00 minutes into the period, on a Jan Hejda induced power play, Tyler Ennis fired the puck on net and Andre Benoit was unable to clear the rebound, which Matt D`Agostini fired into the empty net. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Varlamov deserved a shutout tonight and the team didn't help him out enough on this penalty kill.

The Avalanche responded well to the goal against, and started pressing against the Sabres again.  With about 3:00 left in the period Semyon Varlamov handed the puck off to Erik Johnson who took off down the middle of the ice.  At center ice Johnson deked past a Sabres forward and brought the puck over the blueline.  Johnson dropped the puck for Nathan MacKinnon in the high slot and drove the crease, taking both Sabres d-men with him and giving MacKinnon miles of space to work with.  The rookie stared down Ryan Miller and beat him cleanly through the five hole to tie Ryan O'Reilly for the Avs goal-scoring lead.  I was all aboard the MacKinnon train heading into this years draft, but I never expected him to be this kind of player this quickly, he was absolutely dominant in this game.

Turtle Free Third:

For a moment this game looked like it might get a little nasty.  With a 4-goal spread on the board, Cody McLeod and Zenon Konopka dropped the gloves just 2:00 minutes into the third period (I believe it was both players' first shift of the period).  McLeod and Konopka had a fairly even fight that lasted a long time.  McLeod would have won the fight if not for one punch from Konopka that landed right on McLeod's nose.  He went to the box bloody for the third consecutive fight.  Shortly after the McLeod fight, the Pepsi Center was almost treated to a serious heavyweight matchup between Patrick Bordeleau and John Scott.  Somehow, Patrick Bordeleau was given the benefit of the doubt, and John Scott was sent to the box for roughing.  I never thought I would see Patrick Bordeleau as the victim of a one-sided roughing call but there it is folks.

The Sabres had a dangerous rush towards the Avalanche net, but Ryan O’Reilly made an excellent defensive play from his knees to spring Mitchell, Duchene and Johnson on a 3 on 1 rush. Mitchell tried to center the puck to Duchene, but sent it behind the Avs centre.  The Avs nearly made it a 5 goal game on their next shift, as Landeskog passed the puck behind the net to MacKinnon, who one touched the puck back to the slot for John Mitchell. Mitchell fired the puck past Enroth, but hit the crossbar.

With 12:30 left in the game the Avalanche cleared the puck into the Sabres zone. Tyler Myers flubbed the clearing attempt and handed the puck right to Gabriel Landeskog, who took a few strides towards the Sabres net before squeaking a shot between Enroth’s pads and into the back of the net. 6-1 good guys.

The Sabres showed some signs of life after the Avalanche’s 6th goal, with an extended shift in the Avs zone and a shot off the post. Despite some decent chances, the Avalanche couldn’t capitalize. At the end of the shift Jamie McGinn grabbed the puck along the Avalanche bench and set Ryan O’Reilly racing against the Sabres D with a clearing pass. O’Reilly beat Myers to the puck, but couldn’t catch up to it in time to get a shot on goal. As he turned back towards the slot Matt Duchene drove the far post, drawing the defense towards him and leaving Jamie McGinn wide open with a gaping net in front of him. O’Reilly centered the pass for McGinn, who scored his second of the game with the McGinn clan watching proudly from the stands.

The Sabres had another decent chance near the 7:00 mark, when Marcus Foligno drove the net. Unfortunately, no one informed Foligno that it is the puck, and not the man that needs to cross the goal line. Bordeleau was assessed a holding minor on the play for grabbing onto a Buffalo player on the far post. From there this 7-1 game settled down into a waiting game. Matt Duchene had a decent chance driving the left side of the net with 3:30 on the clock, but Enroth made the blocker save. Otherwise it was half a period of skating back and forth, dumping the puck in and waiting for time to run out on this blowout.

You've got to feel a bit for Ryan Miller, but man does it feel good to finally finish one of these games off without letting the opponents back into the game.  No nail biter here, just a good ol' fashioned butt whoopin'.

3 Stars of the Night:

1. Nathan MacKinnon: 1G, 2A, 4 Shots, and 1 Hit (He decked Myers though, it should count for more than 1 hit.) Oh, and he did it in just 16:48 on the ice. He’s just dominant.

2. Jamie McGinn: 2G, 1A, 6 Shots and 2 Hits

3. Marc Andre Cliche: 1st Career Goal

Honorable Mentions:

Landeskog: 2 goals and 4 hits.

Erik Johnson – 3 point night and an all around good performance from the Avs cornerstone d-man.

Tyson Barrie – Started the Avs scoring and was just plain explosive offensively

Ryan O'Reilly - Two assists, including a beautiful pass from his knees.

Semyon Varlamov – Deserved the shutout, but the Avs made a pretty bad mistake to give D`Agostini

McNabb of the Night: "If you combine the games where McGinn’s dad has been here he’s got a Gordy Howe"

In Case You Missed It:

MacKinnon is riding a career-high 4 game point streak, with 7 points (3g/4a)

Duchene Ping Count:

None tonight, but one heck of a close chance against Miller on the PP.

Tweet of the Night:

Poor Ryan Miller :(

Next Up:

THE BRONCOS. IN THE SUPER BOWL.

EMBRACE THE FOREHEAD AND LETS GO DONKEYS!!!

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