The streak of futility is over. The Avalanche won for the first time since October 25th, blanking the Nashville Predators 1-0. I had other stuff going on last night, so, while I watched most of the game, I wasn't really paying all that much attention. Of course, that won't stop me from talking about it.
The embattled goaltending and defense of the Avalanche finally put in a solid 60-minute effort. Peter Budaj turned away all 26 shots to record his first shutout since March 6, 2007 against the Bruins - a game I happend to see in person. Like that game, Budaj didn't have to do everything on his own. The defense was much better in this game and when Budaj did have to come up big - like on a couple of Shea Weber shots in the 3rd - he was up to the challenge. 10 of the 26 shots were on the PP - Nashville was 0 for 7 in the game. That's an area Budaj (and the entire team) has struggled at this year, so that's even more good news.
On the flip side, the Avalanche offense is sputtering. For the 2nd game in a row, the lone goal-scorer was Darcy Tucker. And those goals have been almost mirror images of each other - each scored with TJ Hensick taking the puck to the wing (left side against Minnesota, right side against Nashville) and centering to Tucker in front. Interestingly, those are almost the exact opposite of the go-up-the-middle-and-then-dish-to-the-wing style usually employed by Tyler Arnason (see below). Hensick has looked terrific and was 2nd among Avalanche forwards in ice time. However, the Avs have scored just 10 goals in the last 7 games. Three have come from defensemen (Leopold and Liles) and 3 more have come from the fourth line (Tucker and Guite). The have have been 0-for on the PP in 6 of those 7 games (they were 0 for 9 last night). Hensick seems like he intends to stick around for a while. His presence has helped, but the top two lines need to get untracked.
For the first time in 2+ years in Colorado, Sanjaya Arnason was finally voted off the ice (healthy scratch). The Avalanche were better with Hensick at center instead of Arnie and it's great that Tony Granato took just 14 games to make a move that Joel Quenneville refused to do in 164. I'm really curious to see how Arnason responds to the benching - I've said before that I think he can still be a very useful player to us if Granato can find the way to motivate him. For all the knocks about lack of effort, Arnie doesn't strike me as the pouty type and this move just might be the catalyst he needs to jump start his game.
Arnason is not the only one feeling the pressure. David Jones, fresh up from his 1-game demotion to the AHL, had just 3 1st period shifts on the way to a shade over 10 minutes of ice time. Cody McLeod (5:14) took his last shift at the 14:29 mark of the second (could that be an injury that I missed?) and Marek Svatos (6:07) had just 1 third period shifts and most of his meager ice time was on the PP. He had no shots in the game, and was tabbed for 2 penalties. Don't be shocked if he's in the press box at some point during the upcoming road trip.
Some of the low ice time was likely related to Joe Sakic, who left during the first intermission with more back trouble, but I think it's clear there are a few people Granato would like to get more effort from.
On defense, Scott Hannan returned to the lineup and Granato took the opportunity to make a tweak - Hannan played with Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles paired with Brett Clark. I didn't see enough to evaluate the new pairings, but the score certainly seems to be a vote in their favor.
- After warning folks about the awful Nashville announcers, I accidentally recorded the Nashville feed. That's a mistake I hope to never, ever repeat.
- The game was just the 4th sellout out of 8 Colorado home games.
- The Avs improved to 3-1 when scoring first.
It is a crucial time for the Avalanche. Their next 4 games are against NW division teams. Wednesday starts a slow, 3-day swing through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary (with 2 off-days between each game) and then the Flames fly to Colorado on Thursday the 20th. After that, the Avs have just two more NW games until after the first of the year.
This last one isn't a recap, but it's a terrific answer to why the Avs have been struggling