The Avalanche ended January the way they started it, by beating the Nashville Predators. After a dismal 12-shot outing against the Red Wings on Sunday, the Avs played exceptionally well against the team with the best record in the NHL. Colorado had much better success holding on to the puck in the offensive zone, as the 35 shots against Tomas Vokoun would attest to. They also played maybe their best neutral zone hockey of the season last night, forcing turnovers and getting good transitional breakouts all game long. And, to top things off, the Avs recorded 19 hits to Nashville's 18 - can that be the first time Colorado has outhit an opponent all season long?
The Avs came out firing on the Preds, scoring two pretty goals in the first 10 minutes to tak an early lead. The first was a 2-on-1 breakaway; Joe Sakic passed it to Andrew Brunette who made a dandy move to outmaneuver Vokoun for a wide open chance at the net. 4:04 later, Tyler Arnason took a shot from the left circle and went to the net, eventually getting to his own rebound (after Brett McLean and Ossi Vaananen both missed the puck in the crease). Nasvhille started to chip away at the lead - first, their PP unit kept the Avs penalty killers on the ice for the entire two minute penalty to Ken Klee, before Jason Arnott finally blasted a shot past Budaj as time was expiring. Early in the 2nd period, Paul Kariya would tie the game when Budaj gave up a bad rebound. I'm sure some people will focus on the Avs "blowing a lead", but the reality is, with a 2-0 lead and 50 minutes of hockey to play, you can't really fault the Avs - it's not like they let up against the Preds. Eventually, a team is going to get chances, and Nashville managed to convert.
Besides, the Avs weren't finished. At 16:14 of the 2nd, the Avs top line worked hard for a goal, cycling beautifully down behind the goal line. Ultimately, Wojtek Wolski got open and Sakic found him to give the Avs the lead again. Milan Hejduk scored on a rocket 46 seconds into the 3rd on what would prove to be the eventual game winner. The Predators scored a late goal when Wolski turned the puck over in his own zone, giving Steve Sullivan a perfect one-timer opportunity, but it was too little, too late.
Peter Budaj gave up a few more rebounds than he normally does, but he was stellar in the 3rd period, especially when the Avs had to kill off a 4 minute powerplay. Ken Klee was called for high sticking. He also had that big interference penalty in OT against the Coyotes. He needs to stop taking bad penalties at bad times.
Colorado finished January with a 7-3-2 record, getting 16 points in 12 games played. That's not too shabby, considering that 10 of the 12 games were played against a team currently on pace to make the playoffs. The Avs showed that, for the most part, they could compete against some of the best teams in the league, and that's encouraging. February will be the month to try to build on that success in the standings - 7 of the 14 games in February are against NW teams.
January scoring stats for the Avs can be found here
LW Antti Laaksonen was a scratch, with RW Mark Rycroft dressing for the first time in 5 games. The lines were juggled rather substantially. Wolski rejoined Sakic and Brunette after a two-period Arnason experiment in Detroit. Instead of rejoining the Stastny line, Arnason played with McLean and Ian Laperriere, with Svatos playing with Stastny and Hejduk. Svatos didn't score, but might have been the best Avalanche on the ice.
C Sakic, LW Wolski, RW Brunette: 15:19 ATOI (EV), 6 pts (EV), 7 shots, +5
C Stastny, LW Hejduk, RW Svatos: 12:31 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 10 shots, -2
C Arnason, LW McLean, RW Laperriere: 10:28 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 9 shots, +3
C Guite, LW Richardson, RW Rycroft: 8:41 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 2 shots, -2
D Clark & D Skrastins: 15:15 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 1 shot, +1
D Klee & D Vaananen: 12:60 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 2 shots, +1
D Leopold & D Sauer: 18:49 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, -1
- Only 3 Avalance players had a +/- in the black for the month of January, Klee (+2), Laperriere (+2), and McLean (+1). Collectively, the Avs were -28 for the month, a huge chuck of that being attributable to the Calgary fiasco.
- Colorado still has just 3 defensemen with a PP point - Liles (17), Clark (8), and Brisebois (5). The 6 other Avs bluelines have a total of 107 minutes of PP ice time without a point, with Ken Klee accounting for 62 minutes.
- Vs commentator John Vanbiesbrouk was on the losing side of both Avalanche Cups - playing for the Panthers in 1996 and backing up Martin Brodeur for the Devils in 2001.