Well, there is some good news. The Avalanche only have to play one more game at home this month. Last night, the team dropped another game at the Pepsi Center, falling 4-1 to Manny Legace and the St Louis Blues. Home has not been where the heart is lately - the Avs have won just 3 of their last 12 games in Denver.
The Avalanche did a lot of things that could have cost them the game. They started out with some sloppy hockey, making some bad turnovers leading to too many odd-man rushes by the Blues. They looked terrible on the powerplay (even by their already low standards). And they got some atrocious goaltending from Jose Theodore (4 saves on 7 shots). Honestly, none of that matter one iota in the end, as they weren't going to beat Legace in this game. Legace completely owned the Avalanche, making 39 mostly brilliant saves to lead his team to victory. After a shaky start, the Avalanche came on strong for the final two periods or so of the game, but just had no answer for the superb Legace.
In our end, we got something far less than superb from Jose Theodore. He looked every bit like the Theo who's struggled since joining the team, not the confident goalie of the last 6 weeks. He failed to react at all to a Paul Kariya redirection on the first goal, even though it seemed he had plenty of time to at least make a token effort; slow (or non-) reaction is a hallmark of bad Theo and it was disturbing to see it return in this game. A little later a juicy rebound to Jay McClement made the game 2-0, but it's the third goal that earned him a trip to the bench. On that goal, Ryan Johnson skated in shorthanded with just Wojtek Wolski back on defense (more on Wolski in a second). I'm still not sure what Theodore was doing on the play. He was extremely slow to react to the play, and was deep in his net when Johnson approached the net. Then he got caught going down and sliding to his right before Johnson let his shot go. When he did, Theodore was in no position at all to make the save. It was ugly. Peter Budaj came in after that and stopped all sixteen shots he faced, several of them of the terrific variety. I'm willing to chalk this game up as a one-time thing...but we won't be going anywhere with goaltending like this.
Speaking of things that aren't going anywhere, how about that powerplay? We're at a point now where it might be wise to just decline any penalty, as we seem to have a better chance of scoring while 5 on 5. After speculating yesterday on who might replace Brett Clark at the point on the powerplay, we had our answer last night: no one. That's right. On the first two powerplays, the Avs used John-Michael Liles or Jordan Leopold on the point, and four forwards down low. On the first PP, this led to the Blues getting an odd-man the other way with just Leopold back. Despite the scoring chance, Quenneville went right back to it on the next powerplay. This time, it cost us. Liles took a chance to pinch in, and was lined up for a big one-timer, while Wolski slipped back to cover at the blueline. Unfortunately, Liles fanned on the shot, which turned the puck over to Ryan Johnson. Johnson said in an interview later that he knew Wolski was the only guy back, and decided to test his defensive capability. Wolski failed. While he got back quickly enough, he was fooled badly by a little deke from Johnson (who had last scored 52 games ago) and the result was the third goal that knocked Theodore from the game (and, with Legace at the other end, essentially iced the game for the Blues). I've said this before: I like Wolski. But he has no business being on the point. I'm not even all that comfortable with Joe Sakic back there, and Sakic has 100 times more defensive acumen than Wolski does. Thankfully, the goal seemed to wake up our coaching staff, and we didn't see that silliness again in the game. I hope everyone's been using pencil to fill out those Jack Adam's ballots, because that goal was a good example of our coaching staff blowing it bigtime.
There were bright spots in the game. Ryan Smyth returned after an 18-game layoff. He didn't seem to be at his peak performance, but he still was an improvement to our offense. The Arnason line continues to get a lot of scoring chances, even though they were held off the board tonight. Ben Guite scored his 8th goal of the season while doing all the little things guys like him do. And TJ Hensick continues to look more and more comfortable at the NHL level. He centered a line with Smyth and Hejduk last night, and is looking more and more like he may be ready to stick around once (if?) the team gets healthy.
- Hensick, Smyth, Hejduk - 0g 0a 0p -2 14:26
- Arnason, Wolski, Svatos - 0g 0a 0p -3 15:11
- Guite, McLeod, Laperriere - 1g 0a 1p E 9:33
- Hlinka, Richardson, Brunette - 0g 0a 0p -6 10:24
(I've really liked the work Richardson has been doing on the Guite line, but wasn't impressed with his change to the more offensive minded Hlinka line).
Skrastins played with Kurt Sauer (Brett Clark's old spot), leaving the rest of the defensive pairing unchanged.
- Ian Laperriere had his 3rd fight in as many games, taking on Jamal Mayers in the first period.
- The team won a whopping 38% of the faceoffs.
- The Clark Factor: The Avs blocked just 9 shots, their lowest total in 17 games.
The Avalanche visit the Blackhawks on Sunday and then host the Red Wings on Monday, our final Central Division games of the year.