The Colorado Avalanche rebounded from a dismal outing against the Dallas Stars on Sunday with an...um, thrashing of the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2. This game was over early; the Avs took the lead at the 4:47 mark of the first period, and Milan Hejduk scored the winning goal just 48 seconds into the second period. Clearly, the Thrashers are a far different opponent than the Stars - they've won just 1 of their last 10 games - but it was still nice to see the Avalanche dominate a game offensively for a change.
With the win, the Avalanche moved to 6th in the conference and are tied with the Flames at 82 points. The Flames have two games in hand, however. The divisional race could not be any tighter - 4 teams separated by just 2 points - and these teams will be playing each other exclusively during the last 3 weeks of the season. The Avs did gain a little more breathing room in the conference race, as they pulled 4 points ahead of the 9th-seeded Nashville Predators. The Preds have played the same number of games as the Avs.
The star of this game was Dartmouth's David Jones (and you all thought Adrian Dater and I were the two best Avalanche related things to come out of NH). Jones, playing on a line with Joe Sakic and Andrew Brunette, was terrific. He assisted on the first two goals (one for Sakic and one for Brunette) and then scored one of his own at the 9:45 mark of the 2nd period. It was Jones' first career goal as well as his first career multi-point game. Congratulations, David.
On Saturday, I wrote that Jones was "playing some solid hockey, but appears to be completely snake-bitten when it comes to putting the puck on the net". Working with Sakic and Brunette - instead of Tyler Arnason and Cody McLeod - seemed to help Jones immensely. Last night, when he carried the puck, his linemates were working to get themselves open. Having players working with him instead of watching him seemed to make all the difference in his game. On top of the offensive output, Jones maintained a physical presence - 5 hits, more than twice that of any other player.
On Monday, I wrote that "our key forwards have been inconsistent at best, invisible at worst" and "it is time for our star players to start playing like star players." I would say that several responded. Sakic had 3 points, after going 4 straight games without a point. Brunette had 2 goals - his 2nd multi-goal game of the season. Milan Hejduk scored for just the 2nd time in 14 games. The goal was nice (a pretty tip-in of a Scott Hannan pass), but, more importantly, Hejduk looked solid as did his linemates Paul Stastny and especially Jaroslav Hlinka. It was great to see the Avs' top two lines performing well all night. Hopefully, that's a trend that will continue.
For the 2nd straight game, the Avs lost two players to injury in the first period. Adam Foote's sore hip knocked him out early on (perhaps the fact that the Avs were already leading 2-0 at the time was a factor in that decision). Scott Parker was also injured after a blatant non-call of a trip midway through the first (I think it was Kovulchuk who tripped him, but I couldn't be sure from the replay). The trip on Parker wasn't called, and late in the game the refs swallowed their whistle when Hlinka was similarly dumped. That's at least 4 times in the last two games that the Avs have been tripped without drawing a whistle; is this some sort of anti-Forsberg-dive backlash the team is suffering from?
Even without Foote, Jordan Leopold and Ruslan Salei, the Avalanche defense continues to look terrific. The Thrashers managed only 13 shots in the first two periods. And the shots that did get through were handled easily by the red-hot Jose Theodore (no, I never thought I'd write those words either). Theodore, starting for the 16th time in the last 17 games, looked very sharp and made a couple of great stops early to maintain his team's early lead. Theodore has stopped 141 of the 150 shots he's faced in March - a .940 save percentage.
One final thought: I absolutely loved the Atlanta broadcast team of JP Dellacamera and Darren Eliot. Dellacamera has a great voice that was enjoyable to listen to, and Eliot's knowledge - and surprising familiarity with the Avalanche - was impressive.
Wojtek Wolski was scratched for the 4th time in the last 10 games. The play of David Jones (on Wolski's line) and Jaroslav Hlinka might make it even tougher for Wolski to get back in the lineup. Then again, if Peter Forsberg and Scott Parker are unable to play on Thursday, Joel Quenneville may not have a choice.
Kyle Cumiskey played after 6 games as a healthy scratch. He was much more solid than he was in his previous two outings.
- Theodore's 2nd half save percentage is .925 and his GAA is 2.09. In the first half, those numbers were .891 and 2.78.
- With those 5 hits, David Jones was responsible for 20% of the hits recorded by both teams in the light-hitting game.
- The Thrashers blocked just 4 shots in the game.
- The Avs scored 5 goals, and yet fell another goal behind last year (they beat Phoenix 6-3 in game 71 last year). It might fall even more - in games 72-75 last year, the Avs averaged more than 4 goals a game.
The Avalanche host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. Ryan Smyth and Ruslan Selei should begin practicing with the team on Thursday, and Salei may play. Leopold and Foote seem more doubtful and there's no word yet on Forsberg or Parker.