The Colorado Avalanche needed a wakeup call to rouse them from their late-season slumber. Dion Phaneuf was the perfect alarm clock. The game began with Phaneuf echoing the technique used by the Minnesota Wild defensemen last Monday - mug Peter Forsberg. Forsberg endured several hard hits from Phaneuf in the early going and it seemed like it was going to be a long, painful night. Against the Wild, our tough guys stood and watched while Forsberg was hammered. This time, someone had his back: Ian Laperriere.
Lappy didn't stand idly by in this game. He went after both Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla in the first period, chipping at Iginla as he was going off for a change and elbowing Phaneuf in the corner (which drew a 3-hanky dramatic reaction from #3). By the time the 2nd period was underway, Phaneuf and Iginla were both visibly agitated by Lappy, and it threw them off their game. Iginla was a huge factor in the first period, but once Laperriere was under his skin, his most notable work on the ice was getting involved in after-whistle scrums. Phaneuf, no doubt remembering the beating put on him by Laperriere in the final game of the season last year, wilted after jawing extensively with Lappy to start the second. From there on, his "contributions" to his team mostly consisted of dumb interference penalties, including the one that led to Jordan Leopold's winning goal. Flames play-by-play guy Roger Millions - a sad, petty homer of an announcer - had the balls to say during the game that Laperriere was an "interesting" choice to be one of the team's assistant captains. As is often the case, I'm pretty sure Roger was watching a different game. If he cared to take off his red-tinted glasses, he'd see exactly why Lappy is wearing an 'A'.
After four straight losses (and several disappointing on-ice efforts), the Avalanche seemed like a different team. While the first period was essentially even, the Avalanche began to take control in the second period and never let the foot off the gas (how normal is that?). The Avs outhit, outhustled, outskated and just all-around outplayed the Flames. The defense, a sore spot in recent games, was in excellent form. While it was a close game on the scoreboard, Colorado seemed to be in control of the action on the ice - much like the Flames were in the 2-1 game last Thursday. Even before Milan Hejduk scored the insurance goal at the 12:19 mark in the 3rd (a play that really should have been whistled down for icing), the Avs seemed well on the way to victory. And how about this: the Avalanche had a 3rd period lead and yet still outshot the Flames 8-6. We actually can win by maintaining offensive pressure. Imagine that.
Jose Theodore didn't have to face a ton of tough shots, but that shouldn't take away from yet another terrific performance by the netminder. When Theodore shut out the Lightning in January, it was his first shutout in almost 4 years and a span of 109 games. All of a sudden, Theodore has 3 shutouts in his last 27 starts.
And how about that Peter Forsberg guy? He's taken a lot of heat for being in and out of the lineup and by all accounts seems to be frustrated with his game. I'd like to submit that perhaps the criticism of Forsberg is a tad unfounded. And by "a tad" I mean: a whole heckuvalot. Keep in mind that the Avalanche gave up nothing to get Foppa - no picks, no players. In fact, with the post-deadline roster size limits expanded, the Avalanche didn't even have to send anyone down to Lake Erie to make room for Forsberg. To me, people need to stop thinking of Forsberg as a vital cog to out playoff chances. Instead, think of him as an extra player. If he's available to play, he slides in and bolsters our offense (and our emotional intensity). When he's not, it's unfortunate, but, since the Avalanche didn't expend any resources to get Foppa, it's hard to really complain about his absence. If you're going to bitch about someone being out of the lineup, bitch about Adam Foote and the two high draft picks we gave up to get him. Oh, and by the way - the Avalanche are 4-1 when Forsberg plays. I fail to see how he's earned even a fraction of the criticism aimed in his direction.
I would have bet money that the lines would have changed radically during the game. I was sure that Forsberg and Wolski would switch before the first intermission, and, in fact they did change for one shift early in the first. But, Joel Quenneville surprised me by generally leaving things alone for most of the night. While I'm not totally enamored with the combinations (I still want to see Forsberg and Brunette together), I'm glad to see him take a night off from the crazy line mixing.
- The season series between the club is over (farewell, Roger Millions and Charlie Simmer). The Avalanche won the seasons series 5-3, outscoring the Flames by a narrow 21-20 margin.
- The Avalanche won 55% of the draws, just the 2nd time this season that they've won the faceoff battle against Calgary.
- Wojtek Wolski led the Avs with 4 hits.
The Avalanche host the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. The Canucks are currently tied with the Avs at 86 points, but have 2 games in hand. One of those games is tonight, when they play the Flames. The Oilers, 3 back of the Avalanche, play the Wild on Minnesota (if the Avs want to move up in the standings, they'll want to be rooting for Edmonton).