The Avs didn't get the W, but it's hard to find much fault with the way they've played lately. Today's game was the last of a tough 5 game road trip; the Avs went 4-0-1 to collect 9 of the 10 points available to them. The Avs outscored their opponents 17-9 on the trip, and allowed just 1 power play goal in the stretch.
I said I wouldn't talk about playoff chances unless we were within 6 points of the Wild after this game. Minnesota followed the Avs to Boston and Buffalo, and repeated Colorado's sweep. The Wild are now out of reach, 11 points ahead of the Avalanche. Calgary and San Jose are the teams to watch now, and we're 8 and 9 points behind them, respectively. In short, we've got just a slightly better chance of seeing the ice in the postseason than Chris Simon does. I'll be very interested to see if the team can continue the strong play as the playoff window of opportunity gets smaller and smaller.
The story of the game, of course, is Paul Stastny. Stastny scored in his 18th consecutive game, breaking Teemu Selanne's record for NHL rookies. It was also his 14th consecutive road game with a point, breaking his uncle Marion's rookie record. Until lately, Stastny hasn't gotten the accolades of Evgeni Malkin or even Jordan Staal (pimped by Don Cherry seemingly every week). Last night, Cherry made a plea to give Staal the Calder Trophy over Malkin, because Staal has less total ice time and powerplay time than Malkin, and has a much better +/- score. Uh, hey Don, if you could just take a second to get your lips off of Staal's ass, you might want to take some time to check out the stats of Paul Stastny. He's got just just 7 less points than Malkin, despite about a minute and a half less of ice time per game. His +/- is better (+4 to -2), doesn't rely on the PP (39 of his points are at even strength or shorthanded), is one of our best penalty killers and defensive forwards, and is putting up numbers without help from Sydney Crosby. Now, Don, I know he's not Canadian, which, in your book, means he shouldn't even be allowed on the ice. Heck, he's almost one of them there face shield wearing Euros, and that just won't fly at all in your world. But any argument for a Calder candidate not named Malkin has to begin and end with Paul Stastny.
Anyway, highlights from the game:
16:26 Marian Gaborik gets a breakaway, but Peter Budaj stones him.
13:16 Mark Parrish hits Wojtek Wolski in the face with his stick, but neither referee sees it.
12:13 John-Michael Liles fails on a weak clearing attempt along the side boards, despite having time to make a smarter play. Liles has been doing this at an alarming rate lately, and is really the only defenseman who hasn't been playing well lately. Earlier this season, I was very impressed with the improvement from JML in his own end, but he seems to have regressed badly in the 2nd half.
11:31 Someone wearing #27 for the Avalanche gets physical with the Wild's Stephane Veilleux after the whistle. It can't be Ossi Vaananen - he stops when the play does.
11:01 Keith Carney gets called for a cross-check against Andrew Brunette. Wild coach Jaques Lemaire can be seen on the bench pantomiming a dive. Because, you know, it's easy for Brunette to fake getting hit across the back with a stick.
10:49 Lemaire's gentle caressing of the refs' ego works well, as Brunette gets called for boarding just seconds into the Carney penalty.
8:47 The mystery imposter has returned the #27 jersey to Vaananen - he gets called for a cross-check.
8:43 It takes the Wild just a few seconds to capitalize. Pierre-Marc Bouchard takes a shot from the point. It deflects in front off of Mark Parrish, and drops right under the pads of Peter Budaj, where Mikko Koivu is there to tap it home. Koivu seems to always have a great game against the Avalanche.
7:40 Altitude's Peter McNab reports that Koivu has scored 6 of his 15 goals against Colorado this year, lending credence to my thought above.
7:31 Brett Clark gets called for a hook against Gaborik behind the Colorado net. I know Gaborik is dangerous, but that's not a penalty you want to take at that spot on the ice.
5:28 The Avs do a great job of killing off Clark's penalty.
4:47 Penalty number to on Keith Carney - this time for a hold on Brunette. Carney is the antithesis of Koivu - he always seems to hurt his own team in games against Colorado. Peter McNab doesn't rescue me with any stats to back that statement up.
3:44 Carney's penalty results in Stastny's record-breaking point. Stastny starts the play on the right wing boards, and dumps it down low to Brunette. Brunette - someone I don't give enough appreciation to in this space - moves to the front of the net but has the poked poked away by Brent Burns. Fortunately for the Avs, the puck goes right to the stick of Milan Hejduk, who buries it past Nicklas Backstrom for his 28th goal of the year.
:05.8 Ken Klee takes a penalty for high sticking.
19:29 Budaj makes a nice save on a centering attempt on the powerplay, keeping the score tied.
17:36 Vaananen and Veilleux hook up again, coming together to throw a few punches in the corner. Both get roughing minors, although I thought Veilleux was by far the more aggressive of the two, and the play should have earned the Avs a powerplay.
14:21 Ian Laperriere and Petteri Nummelin get together for the second set of coincidental minors in the period.
10:25 Todd White gets a breakaway and tries to squeeze between Vaananen and Klee. Klee pushes White of the puck, stopping the scoring chance.
8:10 Brent Burns drops Joe Sakic with a great open ice hit. Not something you see every day.
6:07 Just inside the Wild blueline, Ben Guite finds Mark Rycroft sneaking ahead of the defensemen for a great scoring chance. What a great find Guite has been.
19:20 Gaborik is in on a 2 on 1 break, but Sauer goes down to the ice and pokes the puck away. Great play to make in front of, I assume, many of the Minnesotan's friends and family in attendance.
18:37 Vaananen/Veilleux III: Veilleux gets a hard check on Vaananen in front of the Minnesota bench.
12:14 Keith Carney gets a delay of game penalty. With that one (his 3rd penalty of the night), I had to go back and check some past box scores. I couldn't find any penalties from Carney in the last few Avalanche - Wild matchups, so I guess my above observation on Carney was just a hallucination. Certainly not a first for me.
10:13 Colorado takes the lead, just as Carney's penalty expires. The play starts while Carney is still in the box, with a faceoff in the Wild's zone. Joel Quenneville puts out the 4th line (I don't agree that this is because of a "hunch" by Quenneville, as McNab postulated, but more a matter of sending out the checkers to be on the ice when the penalty expired). At any rate, Guite wins the draw, Laperriere drops it back to Brett Clark on the point. Clark hits the post, Guite collects the puck and gets a shot off on Backstrom that's stopped. Guite grabs the rebound at the side of the net, centers it to Laperriere and Lappy fights off two players to literally jam the puck into the net. Colorado takes a 2-1 lead in what has become a very tight hockey game.
9:53 McNab says something to the effect of "Right now, the Avalanche are that team in control."
9:51 And, like that, the Wild tie it. Gaborik and Clark battle in the corner for the puck. Clark gets it and tries to push it to the point, but Pavol Demitra intercepts it behind the net and immediately centers it to Koivu. Koivu now has 7 of 16 goals against Colorado. Demitra had been centering passes to Koivu from behind the net all period, and they finally managed to convert. The score is tied 2-2 with under 10 minutes left. You know Minnesota will be playing for OT now, and the Avs probably will be happy to guarantee a point as well.
2:40 A hard shot from Nick Shultz hits Hejduk in the ska...er, lower body. Hejduk skates of slowly, but seems to be ok after, taking another shift in the period and two more in OT.
:33 Great save by Budaj to preserve the point. Unfortunately, Stastny gets called for interference on the play. That's one of 7 penalties on the Avs in the game.
3:25 Stastny's penalty is over.
:18.9 With a shootout looming large, Gaborik takes the puck to the net. Budaj makes the stop, but the rebound goes right to Burns, who has a wide-open net to deposit his 4th goal of the year. Minnesota gets the extra point, and move into a 5th place tie in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Even Strength Lines
Same setup for the 5th straight game. Nothing against Brett McLean, but I don't get why he is on the Stastny line and not Brad Richardson. Richardson showed some great stuff in the 6 games he spent on the first and second line.
C Sakic, LW Wolski, RW Brunette: 16:02 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, E
C Stastny, LW McLean, RW Hejduk: 16:13 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 5 shots, -5
C Arnason, LW Richardson, RW Laperriere: 12:46 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 4 shots, +1
C Guite, LW Rycroft, RW Parker: 6:46 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 5 shots, +2
D Clark & D Sauer: 23:31 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 2 shots, -2
D Klee & D Vaananen: 19:47 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 2 shots, E
D Liles & D Finger: 12:15 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 1 shot, E
- Colorado's 7 minor penalties was a change of direction from their recent play. They had just 13 minors in the previous 4 games on the road trip. Just 4 of those 13 were on the defense, but the crew equalled that today.
- Third star Kurt Sauer played 29 minutes, almost 4 minutes more than anyone else on either team. Sauer has been tops in minutes 3 times in the last 6 games.
- I finally have pictures up from Tuesday's Avalanche - Boston game.