Today's recap is brought to you by the number 4.
The Avalanche extended their winning streak to 4 games, topping the Oilers 4-1. Edmonton started off strong, outshooting the Avalanche 10-7 in the first period (despite giving the Avs 3 powerplays). But both goalies were strong in the early going, and the teams were knotted up at 0-0 after the first.
In the 2nd, the Oilers jumped to a 1-goal lead on a PP goal from Shawn Horcroff. And, for a moment, it seemed like the Avalanche were going to be in trouble...until the dam burst. The Avalanche scored 3 goals over a 6:19 span to go from a 1-goal deficit to a 3-1 lead. 4th-liner Ian Laperriere started the scoring with his rebound of Ben Guite's blocked shot. Guite, playing for the first time in 4 games (and rocking the fu once again) had shot the puck in from the blueline after a cleared puck was kept in inadvertendly by a linesman. 5 minutes later, Paul Stastny scored on the PP, taking a quality pass from assist-monster Marek Svatos and banging it home. The 4th line struck again just over a minute later when Cody McLeod scored his 3rd of the season charging hard to the net (Mathieu Garon seemed so frightened by the oncoming bus that he simply let the puck slide under his pads and into the net).
Last year, the Avalanche led the league in 2nd period scoring - 43% of Colorado's scoring came in the 2nd frame. This year? The Avs are again leading the way with a whopping 14 of their 23 goals (60%) coming in the middle frame. Perhaps the Avs should think about petitioning to move their benches, because the long-change period seems to be where they are most effective.
Lately the Avalanche have struggled with 3rd period leads. Last night, there would be no prevent defense. The Avalanche kept offensive pressure on through the third (the Oilers would have just a slight shot edge in the 3rd, 9-7). Joe Sakic made it 4-1 early in the 3rd period, and that effectively was it. That goal was a excellent bit of give-and-go passing between Sakic, Darcy Tucker and Wojtek Wolski. I felt that last night was the first time all 3 guys on that 2nd line were on the same page. With the way our 1st and 4th lines are playing, a gelling 2nd line could be devastating to opposing teams. Wolski had just that one assist in the game, but he is my early favorite for most-improved on the team (which is saying something, considering the play of Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth). He has looked incredibly confident so far this year. He's stealing pucks, making plays, using the body, killing penalties, working the point on the PP - he has been head and shoulders better than the too-scared-to-make-the-wrong-play Wolski of the past.
In the post-game interview, Ian Laperriere - wearing street clothes after getting tossed for allowing Zach Stortini to hug him vigorously - mentioned that the Avalanche had tried some new things defensively. One of those things would be better shot blocking; the Avs blocked 24 shots - 9 more than their previous high. Their clearing attempts were better, and they also seemed to be working better with their forwards. Early in the 2nd, John-Michael Liles went for the body to stand up an Oiler coming into the zone. Meanwhile, Cody McCormick calmly retrieved the puck in the corner and moved it up and out of harm's way. This was easily the best defensive effort of the season, and I've rambled so long that I barely have enough time to give a stick tap to Peter Budaj, who, in his 4th appearance of the season, finally looked comfortable in net.
The Oilers looked good in this game early, but faded once the Avalanche started scoring. Perhaps it's because they were in the 2nd of back-to-back games or perhaps there's other issues. It was interesting to notice that Craig MacTavish gave his 4th line (featuring bruisers Stortini and Steve MacIntyre) just 4 shifts in the first 43 minutes of the hockey game. After Sakic made it 4-1, that Dumb and Dumber Line was suddenly very important to the Oilers' comeback efforts, as they got regular shifts the rest of the way (well, minus Stortini who was tossed for that hugging thing). It's possible that was just a dick move to try to take some of the sting out of a bad loss, but I think it might have been more an attempt to simply ignite a little fire under his team.
David Jones missed the game with the flu. Ben Guite - who apparently was going to play even if Jones was well enough to dress - centered McLeod and Lappy while Cody McCormick stepped into the black hole of a 3rd line. Everything else stayed the same (stick tap to Tony Granato).
I've got all the game reports and recaps indexed in the sidebar to the right, for easy reference.
- With Lappy's goal, all 13 forwards (and 16 of the 19 skaters) who have dressed this year have a goal.
- McLeod, Lappy, Guite and McCormick have 6 goals and 8 fighting majors so far this year.
- Clark (6), Liles (4), Hannan (4) and Foote (3) accounted for 17 of the Avs 24 blocks.
The Avalanche host the 6-0-1 Sabres on Saturday in a matchup of two of the highest scoring teams in the league.