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Game 9: Avalanche 4, Oilers 2

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On the same night that Ryan Smyth returned to Edmonton, the Avalanche returned to playing competent hockey by defeating the Oilers, on the road, 4-2.  The win was the first road victory by Colorado so far this season, and it only took five tries!

As promised, Smyth cried like a baby during the brief video tribute and standing ovation he received at Rexall Place prior to the game.  The Oilers fans were classy for a while, and even waited to start really booing him until the third period.  How civil.

Though the Avalanche had fought back from multiple-goal deficits in three straight games, they actually scored first this time, when Tyler "Oiler Killer" Arnason found the back of the net with an unassisted goal at the halfway-point of the first period. At 12:02, the Oilers scored to tie the game, but just 23 seconds later, Jaroslav Hlinka pretended to be Ryan Smyth and scooped a rebound from the slot past Dwayne Roloson for Hlinka's first NHL goal ever (and his first point in eight games).  Wojtek Wolski made it 3-1 off a good feed from Jeff Finger at 18:43.

Then, for some reason, Coach Q decided that the Avs were as good defensively as Minnesota, because that's who they tried to play like throughout the second period.  Colorado stopped attacking the Edmonton zone, content to just dump the puck toward Roloson and then skate off for line changes.  The team managed only four shots on goal in the second but allowed 12.

I hope Coach Q recognizes the fact that his decision to abandon offense in the second period was only successful because of the superb work in goal by Peter Budaj.  Boots was on fire last night, and made 25 saves on 27 shots, including a perfect 12-for-12 in the second period.  He saved the game for the Avs.  While the defense has improved in general with the hard efforts of Kurt Sauer, Kyle Cumiskey and Jeff Finger (who all had very good games), it's not perfect.  Peter Budaj knows that better than anybody, especially after the last two games.

Speaking of Jeff Finger, his hard-hitting antics started a ruckus in the first period with a big hit on an Oilers player whose name now escapes me rookie Sam Gagner.  Matthieu Roy took offense and went after Ian Laperriere, but Lappy got the best of him despite Roy's size advantage (and visor).  A clear KO for Lappy.

I must commend Ben Guite, Jeff Finger and Laperriere for adding a level of physicality to the Avalanche that the team sorely lacked last season.  All three of them have literally thrown themselves at the opposition in every game they've played, and it makes a big difference.  Those guys are true grinders and I tip my hat to them.

Now, as for players on the Mile High Hockey List Of Feces™, I have to add Jordan Leopold.  What happened to him?  After several games of strong play, he's looked bad in the past two.  Flopping all over the place, getting caught out of position, reacting late to attacks---he's really struggling on the ice and it shows.  Either his defensive partner has been wrong and he's having communication problems or he needs to pay more attention to Killer Robot Cloutier during practice drills.  His weak play is hurting the team.

And finally, Paul Stastny was a no-show against Edmonton, which I blame on the continued absence of Milan Hejduk.  Son of Stastny and The Duke have really clicked on the ice (they did last season, too) and one without the other just doesn't seem to be working.  Marek Svatos is no substitute for Hejduk, despite his continued hard play, so it can't just be chalked up to Stastny having a Czech fetish.  Let's just hope The Duke's back heals quickly.

The Avalanche next faces Calgary on Friday for the final installment of a four-game road trip.  Then it's back to Colorado to take on the Minnesota Wild again.

Stars of the Game:

  1. Tyler Arnason (1g, 1a)
  1. Dustin Penner (1g, 1a)
  1. Wojtek Wolski (1g, 0a)

ADDENDUM: I want to take a moment to compliment part-time MHH contributor Draft Dodger on his excellent statistical exploits over at his real blog In The Cheap Seats.  He has revived the now-defunct NHL.com Shift Chart with his own version of it.  Be sure to check out his game recap and his statistical game report.  That's some solid work.  Now I wonder what I have to do to convince him to drop ITCS and blog on MHH full time...