The Avalanche beat the Columbus Blue Jackets last night 3-1. The win moved the Avs into a first-place tie in the mega-tight Northwest Division (4 teams within a point of first). After a rough 1-5-1 stretch beginning in late December, the Avs are 4-0-1.
The team started out a little shaky last night, especially in their own end where Columbus forecheckers seemed to swarm all over any Avalanche player with the puck. It's possible the Avalanche defensemen were a bit out of rhythm as they were often double-shifting: Johnny Boychuk was playing again for Jordan Leopold (flu) and was used sparingly - just 8 even strength shifts and 8:27 in overall ice time. Whatever the issue was, the team improved steadily throughout the game.
Jeff Finger started the scoring at the 17:56 mark of the first period when his slapshot from just inside the blueline beat Pascal LeClaire. LeClaire had all kinds of obstacles on the play - Ian Laperriere and Michael Peca were both screening him on the play and the puck was deflected at least once on the way to the net. The Columbus broadcasters lobbied for a goaltending interference call on Lappy on the play, but I believe they are just contractually obligated to do so whenever we face them. It was Finger's 4th point in his last 5-games.
Ben Guite scored the eventual game winner at the 7:40 mark of the 2nd. Karlis Skrastins made a long pass from his zone and Ian Laperriere tipped it into the Columbus zone. Guite and David Jones (up again from the AHL) fought for the puck in front of Jan Hejda and Jared Boll. Jones ended up with it and got the puck on net. LeClaire made the save and tried to freeze the puck, but Guite didn't give up; he dug and dug for it, eventually knocking the puck in. Jones, in his 3rd NHL game, got an assist on the play - his first NHL point. Congratulations, David.
Columbus seemed poised to fight back in the 3rd period, but Tyler Arnason closed the door on that just 3:33 when solid passing by John-Michael Liles, Marek Svatos and Wojtek Wolski gave Arnason room and an open net to shoot at on the left wing. He converted to make it 3-0 and all but ice the Blue Jackets. Frederik Modin scored 40 seconds later to make it 3-1, but that would end the scoring.
Jose Theodore got his 8th straight start. He's allowed 2 goals or less in 6 of those starts. You can feel the team's confidence in him is growing. With the All-Star break coming up, I wonder if Budaj will get a start in one of the two remaining starts this week (he hasn't played since Jan 2). There's no question, though, that Theodore is the number one again. I'm still not thrilled about the way Budaj has been handled this year, but I can't complain with the way Theodore has responded. Comparing this year to last year, the Avalanche have allowed 10 less goals - the best improvement through any point this year.
And while I'd like to congratulate Joel Quenneville on getting a team missing it's three best players back into contention, I do have some complaints with some of his decision making last night. The Arnason line (Arnason, Svatos and Wolski) scored a big goal last night, and has been putting some pretty good offensive numbers lately. They are not, however, very good defensively and they were mired in their own zone quite often in the first two periods. So, coach, you've got a line that's weak defensively and has a terrible faceoff man in the middle...how do you handle that? Why, by putting them out for about 40% of the draws in our own zone of course. While Arnason was okay at defensive draws (3 of 6), the other 3 centers were better (9 of 10). Little moves like this can cost you big time in the playoffs.
Game notes and rambling comments from a crazy man can be found here
David Jones was recalled and played on the 4th line instead of Scott Parker. While Jones played well (and assisted on the winning goal), I thought it was odd to scratch Parker against a team with such a history of being chippy against us. The full listing is up.
- Each of the Avalanche goal scorers notched their 4th goal of the season (thanks Americanario)
- The Avalanche improved to 7-2 in Sunday games.
- Both Jones and Columbus' Darick Brassard scored their first NHL point (an assist) in the game.
The Avalanche host Nasvhille on Tuesday and Minnesota on Thursday. After that, they break for 6 days before the Blackhawks return to town next Wednesday.