Everyone can exhale now. The Avs rebuilding effort is put off for just a little bit longer. For the first three minutes of the game, it looked like this was going to be a long night - all the play was in Colorado's zone, and Toronto scored an early soft goal by Bates Battaglia of all people. But - and this is why I love this team so much - the Avalanche did not give up. The team quickly rebounded, and ended up dominating the Leafs for the rest of the period. Although Andrew Raycroft looked very sharp, he can't play defense - something Toronto is in need of. Brett McLean took advantage of an early Toronto breakdown to bang home a second rebound chance passed the sprawling goaltender. The second and third periods were pretty evenly played, but, for a change, it was the Avs converting some chances. John-Michael Liles scored twice, the winning goal coming on a strange play in front of the net in the 2nd, and an insurance goal in the 3rd on a nifty pass from Marek Svatos at the blueline. Toronto had chances as well, including two big breakaways, but Colorado's defense did a nice job stopping chances and putting sticks in front of centering attempts. Peter Budaj, playing for a benched Jose Theodore, didn't have to be spectacular, but we was certainly solid, making 27 saves in his first career game against Toronto.
Other than a poor effort on the powerplay, Colorado was pretty strong throughout. The Avs penalty kill continues to excel and is currently ranked 7th in the NHL. All four of the Avs goals came at even strength, an area that had been hurting so far. The defense bent at times, but I think overall put in their best effort to day. And, other than the one softie, Budaj was perfect. More than enough to build on as the road trip continues.
Following the 10-penalty debacle against Chicago, Colorado had 6 more minor penalties, including a two many men on the ice call (actually there should have been a second, but they got lucky). To be fair, several of them were extremely suspect, from Ken Klee "tripping" Michael Peca (9.3 on the dive, Mike) to a phantom holding call on Patrice Brisebois. The strangest was a call on Marek Svatos in the 3rd, when Svatos fell chasing down the puck and Hall Gill dove on top of him. It was announced as unsportsmanlike diving, and showed up in the box score as tripping. Svatos has proven that he's capable of taking plenty of dumb penalties on his own (like the stupid slash on Peca that negated a powerplay); he doesn't need the refs to put him in the box for stuff like that.
- Kurt Sauer finally made the ice after 4 healthy scratches (Ossi Vaananen sat in his place). It was, unfortunately, a pretty typical night for Kurt; he was quietly solid in his own end, but made one huge mistake that lead to a Toronto breakaway. I like Sauer, and I would prefer to see him play over Ossi. But I think that one error stands out more in the mind of the coaching staff than the rest of his good play.
- Welcome to the Avs, Tyler Arnason. Keep playing like that. Please.
- Brad Richardson leads Colorado forwards in PK ice time by a whopping 5 1/2 minutes (28:52 to Laaksonen's 23:22). Unfortunately for him, he's been on the ice for all 4 power play goals scored against the Avs this year.
- Last year, Ian Laperriere and Milan Hejduk spent a lot of time on the kill. This year, they are 6th and 7th respectively in PK ice time for forwards (Richardson, Laaksonen, Stastny, Rycroft and even Sakic have more time shorthanded).
- Statistically, your best killer this year at forward and defense is Paul Stastny (no goals in 16:52) and Karlis Skrastins (2 in 31:33, although Liles has none in 5:27). Peter Budaj has not allowed a goal while his team was shorthanded.