In a crazy game last night, the Avalanche shook off the Blues 9-5 at the Pepsi Center. It was the 1,000th win for the franchise and, with 14 goals scored, was a heck of a game to watch.
For the 9th time in the last 12 games, the Avalanche gave up the first goal of the game when Jay McClement scored on a one-timer to the left of Jose Theodore. McClement must have been excited, because he hadn't scored since October 12th...when he scored against Jose Theodore. The Avs tied it about 5 minutes later when Ryan Smyth's aggressive forecheck seemed to catch Christian Backman by surprise. Smyth stole the puck, circled around and then dished to Hejduk joining the play. Hejduk beat Hannu Toivonen to tie the game. That was it for a relatively quiet first period (13 total shots).
The floodgates opened in the 2nd period.
At the 5:02 mark, Hejduk scored his 2nd of the game, banging home a rebound of a John-Michael Liles point shot on the powerplay. The Blues tied it less than a minute later when McClement was awarded (and converted) a penalty shot after getting hauled down by Karlis Skrastins. At the 10:01 mark, the Avs pulled back in the lead. Scott Hannan was able to keep a weak clearing attempt in at the blueline. He found Jaroslav Hlinka down along the boards, and Hlinka centered a gorgeous pass to Stastny streaking to the net. That made it 3-2, but the team certainly was not done. At the 11:28 mark, Andrew Brunette came out from his office behind the net. His path to a wraparound was cut off, but Wojtek Wolski had moved to the the front of the net on the play, so Bruno dished off to him and Wolski beat Toivonen to make it 4-2. A couple of minutes later, Stastny and Hejduk had a two-on-one breakaway. Toivonen was able to stop Hejduk's attempt, but couldn't control the rebound, which a trailing Brett Clark was able to slam home to give the Avs a 3-goal lead. Ryan Smyth added a wraparound goal late in the 2ndto seal the game. Or so it seemed.
Blues coach Andy Murray, seeing his team down 6-2, pulled Toivonen to start the 3rd, replacing him with recent AHL callup Marek Schwarz. The Blues then proceeded to score two goals in the first 90 seconds of the 3rd to turn a blowout into a a potential nail-biter. Murray put Toivonen back in the game, and Francois Giguere began typing up Joel Quenneville's termination letter. Thankfully, the Blues would get no closer. The Avalanche scored on what seemed like the billionth wraparound move at the 7:36 mark, with Smyth feeding Stastny from behind the net to put the Avs ahead 7-4. Hejduk scored on the PP five minutes later to make it 8-4 (giving Hejduk a ton of free hats and causing Toivonen to get pulled for the 2nd time in the game). Wolski scored at the 14:17 mark to make it a whopping 9-4 game. The Blues did score a late PP goal (Karlis Skrastins: Do you really need to take a penalty with 3 minutes left with your team in control?), but it wasn't exactly the top PK squad on the ice - it was Liles, Jeff Finger, Cody McCormick and TJ Hensick.
Obviously, the big story in the game was the play of the Stastny line. Stastny, Smyth and Hejduk had 14 points in the game (11 at even strength). Unquestionably, this line is our top line, and that status isn't going to change even when Joe Sakic comes back. The trio has 43 points (15g 28a) in the last 10 games and are +21. The rest of the forwards? 28 points (14g 14a) and -17. That, my friends, is a one-line offense.
A secondary story is that we are continuing to see the Avalanche defensemen jump into the play, and it's making a difference on the scoreboard. Hannan's pinch in the 2nd period kept the puck in the zone, leading to Hlinka's feed to Stastny. Clark joining the rush led to his rebound goal. I saw Liles in the St Louis faceoff circle even late in the 3rd period. The Avs are finally sending their defensemen, and it's working out very well. And, in even better news, we started to see some 2-D PP units last night. For all 3 PP goals scored, there were two defensemen on the ice (Clark and Liles for the first two, Clark and Cumiskey for the 2nd). As pleased as I am that someone finally listened to me and put Smyth with Stastny and Hejduk, I am even happier that my demands to spring the D more have been met as well. Maybe next time I'll aim higher.
Game notes are here
- Stastny, Smyth, Hejduk
- Hensick, Wolski, Brunette
- Arnason, Hlinka, Svatos
- Guite, Richardson, McCormick
- Over the last 10 games, the Avs top 3 scorers are not surprising: Stastny, Hejduk & Smyth. The number four guy? Scott Hannan, with 8 points (1g, 7a)
- Cody McCormick was 5th among forwards for EV ice time (behind the big 3 and Wolski). Brunette was 8th, with just 10:01 of EV ice.
- 8 players from the Avalanche had multi-point games.
The Avalanche have back-to-back road games this week, heading back to Columbus on Wednesday and then moving on to Nashville the next night to play the Predators.