This was one of those ugly games that the Avalanche really had no business winning. Columbus outplayed Colorado in just about every facet of the game, but they made a few too many sloppy plays in their own end that the Avs were able to capitalize on.
The struggling Jackets came out hard against the Avs. Nikolai Zherdev and Sergei Fedorov (in vintage NHL '93 form) had a ton of jump. And Jose Theodore looked extremely shaky - especially early on - giving up more rebound opportunities than Madonna in her prime. It was Colorado that scored first, though, on a beauty of a give-and-go between Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny. Six minutes later, Tyler Arnason took advantage of flat-skatting defenders, drawing everyone to him against the boards before making a nifty behind the back pass to Ian Laperriere who tapped it to the far side of the net to a wide open Brett McLean. Columbus finally scored 15 seconds later, with Theodore working on some sort of strange new bellyflop style that didn't fool Fedorov. After one period, Colorado had a 2-1 lead, despite being handily outplayed.
The second period was more of the same. Colorado converted (finally) on an early penalty to take a 3-1 lead, and then Mark Rycroft knocked his rebound home on an innocent looking play that saw Columbus defenders (and goalie Pascal Leclaire) basically give up. That was Rycrofts first goal as an Av, and would prove to be the game winner. Towards the end of the period, with Stastny in the box for hooking (one of eight hooking calls in the game), Fast Freddie Modin scored to make things 4-2, but by then, Colorado had the game well in hand.
Or not. Columbus saved it's best for the last period, with Colorado reverting to a turtling posture (note to the Avs: repeatedly icing the puck is probably not a great way to protect a lead). Columbus outshot Colorado 20-5 in the final frame, and when David Vyborny lobbed a beach ball past Theodore from about 300 feet away (ok, slight exaggeration there), it seemed that this game was going to end very, very poorly. But then Brad Richardson picked the pocket of David Nash at the Columbus Blue Line and skated in alone uncontested to ice the game for Colorado. It wasn't pretty - Colorado was outshot 44-22 - but it was a win.
- Four of the six division leaders are recent expansion teams (Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Atlanta), but the Jackets are mired near the bottom of the standings. There were some pretty high expecations for improvement this year in Ohio, and I think Columbus will be in the playoff mix when all things are said and done (of course, I said that about the Blues last year, so don't forget a few grains of salt with that).
- Colorado had 9 penalties, including two delay of game penalties and a horseshit diving call on Antti Laaksonen when he was thrown to the ice late in the third. Five of those came in the third, including a 5-on-3 overlap on their two best killers (Skrastins and Clark), but Columbus was not able to convert on any of them. On that key 5-on-3, Brisebois was sent out to kill with Ken Klee. Although he failed to clear on one opportunity, he took a hard shot of his leg or foot, but stayed in there despite a visible limp as Colorado killed off Columbus' big chance. And he was back out for his very next shift to take a hard check behind the net. Brisebois has his faults, but one of his most underrated qualities as a player is his surprising toughness.
- Vyborny's goal to cut the lead to 4-3 should never have happened. It was set up by Duvie Westcott with a vicious boarding hit on Joe Sakic right in front of a referee (the same referee who invented the Laaksonen penalty two minutes later). With competent refs, this might have been a bit of an easier win.