The Best (Dun)Man won
Photo courtesy Doug Pensinger (Getty)
Five days you work
One whole day to play
Come on everybody, wear your rollerskates today
It's Saturday, Saturday
Saturday, it's Saturday
Saturday, it's Saturday
Saturday, it's Saturday-ay
(Is the word, is the word, is the word)
Why am I quoting De La Soul's It's a Rollerskating Jam Named 'Saturday'? The Colorado have been mediocre at pretty much everything this year. But they own Saturday-ay-ays, baby. The Avalanche dumped the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 today to improve to 8-0 on the season (which means they are 14-19-1 on days not named for NFL centers).
This was a game that featured two clubs that are essentially one line teams - both teams are getting about 40% of their goals from their top line. To properly showcase the matchup, Avalanche coach Tony Granato made sure our top line of Smyth, Wolski and Hejduk was out there every time Pittsburgh's top line of Crosby, Malkin and Sykora was on the ice. It worked.
The Woslki line struck first. After a turnover in our own zone, Hejduk and Smyth led the rush up the ice in the opposite direction. Hejduk dropped it back to Wolski, who was late on the play because he was busy playing defense behind the Colorado net (!). Wolski's shot deflected off of Smyth and past Dany Saboruin ["Saboruin" was a typo, but I think it fits so I'll leave it in].
Pittsburgh evened it up five minutes later with Darcy Tucker in the box after a too many men penalty on the Avs (the one penalty they took in the game). The Avs had had an excellent penalty kill, and actually had an excellent shorthanded chance by David Jones (Pittsburgh color guy Bob Erry was so impressed by Jones' speed, he called him "Eric Heiden"). But just as it looked like the Avs would dodge a bullet, Crosby fed Malkin with a stellar cross-ice pass and Malkin's blistering one-timer was simply unstoppable.
Colorado took back the lead 2:06 into the 2nd period when a hustling Jones intercepted a Sabourin hard-around. He got the puck to his teammates in front and then circled to the paint to bang in the rebound of a John-Michael Liles shot. Pittsburgh tied it up again at the 8:44 mark on a nice play: Malkin carried the puck in on the right side and found Crosby with another solid cross-ice pass. Crosby was all alone, as Maxime Talbot had gone hard to the net and tied up Scott Hannan. Crosby's wicked shot beat Andrew Raycroft five hole (the second goal that he really had no chance on) and the score was tied. Again.
That Crosby goal marked the 49th assist for Malkin on the season. No one on the Avs had 49 assists all of last year...and it's doubtful anyone will do it this year either (Stastny leads the team with 21). The Avs have no one as skilled as Malkin or Crosby...but they do have Wojtek Wolski. On his next shift after the Crosby equalizer, Wolski skated in almost casually and apparently with no effort at all lifted a puck over the glove of Saborin. Hejduk helped on the play by tieing up a defenseman in front of the net and probably should have been penalized for holding the stick, but that was still a gorgeous goal from Wolski. In a game that featured some great plays from two of the best in the world, the games' greatest goal was from our new star center. And he wasn't even our best player...
Each team's top lines had two goals and would score no more on the evening. It would fall to each club's lower lines to decide this one. Jones' goal, then, was the difference to that point and the Avalanche had a 3-2 lead. At the 14:39 mark, Cody McLeod made if 4-2. It was a tremendous shift by the Avs - McLeod and Jones were stuck on a loong shift. Their center - Arnason - had already changed, so Philippe Dupuis was out their as their pivot man. At one point, McLeod rang one off the post. The horn sounded briefly, but they waved it off right away and play continued. The three forwards worked HARD. Dupuis was boarded by Philippe Boucher, but shook it off and kept the play moving. Ultimately, Jones would dish it to Leopold on the point, and McLeod deflected Leo's hard shot past Sabourin. With all the missing firepower, the Avs need more shifts (and goals) liket his one. It was the only time we saw those three together, and I'd really like to see them play together again. I know Dupuis isn't even supposed to be on the roster, but he's been working hard and would play ahead of Arnason or Hensick on my team at this point.
(Speaking of Dupuis, the "brother" issue was not resolved by the Penguins guys. Pascal was a scratch for Pittsburgh and at one point Errey mentioned that there was a Dupuis in the game, but not the one Penguins fans were familiar with. Even with that perfect lead-in, they failed to divulge if Pascal and Philippe were related or not).
Besides being perfect on Saturdays, the Avs have yet to lose this year when they've led after two periods (this is despite being outscored 41-27 in the final frame). So, would the Avs' Gilette Foamy defense be thick and rich enough to stop the team with the 2nd most 3rd period comebacks? Actually, yes, it would. Pittsburgh's one penalty of the game came on a Matt Cooke cross-check at the 6:49 mark of the 3rd, and Jordan Staal made all 17,908 Pepsi Center fans nervous by scoring a shorthanded goal to cut the lead to 4-3. But Jones would save the day: with about 20 seconds left on Cooke's penalty, Jones banged home a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury (who replaced Sabourin at the start of the 3rd) to seal the game for the Avs.
Yes, Pittsburgh is struggling (particularly on defense). Still, the Avs are showing signs of pulling it together. They jumped from 10th to 7th in the West (temporarily, perhaps - Phoenix and Minnesota will pull ahead with wins tonight). Raycroft has been good, the defense has been quite solid, the Wolski line has been tremendous. Now they just need some of the other forwards to start stringing some consecutive good games together. Jones and McLeod were terrific tonight. Dupuis has been good. Svatos had a nice game. Stewart has put in some good efforts lately. If Granato can just find the right combo for his lower lines (hint: start with Dupuis, Jones and McLeod), this team might have a chance to make some waves.
No changes again.
Hannan and Salei were the defensemen matched up against the Crosby line all night. Despite the two goals, I thought they did well keeping them in check for the most part
- Fleury and Jones are both products of the 2003 draft. Fleury was drafted first overall, Jones was drafted 288th (out of 292).
- On the first Jones goal, McLeod notched his first assist on the season. He is working on some rather bizarre first-half / second-half splits. So far in his NHL career he has 9 goals and 0 assists in the first half of the season and 2 goals and 6 assists in the 2nd half.
- With the win, the Avs pulled to just 2 points behind last year, the closest they've been since December 15th. They are also now just 6 goals behind last year, the best they've been since December 9th.
The Avs visit Columbus (we're 0-2 against them this year) on Tuesday and St Louis (1-0) on Friday. And then they have, oh, 8 straight games at home. After Thursday, the Avs' next road game is February 7th (ironically, also in St Louis).
Pittsburgh’s 22-year-old Russian standout Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s leading scorer, and 21 year-old Sidney Crosby, who entered the game tied for second in the league scoring race, combined for four points, each getting a goal and an assist. But a couple of Avalanche youngsters had pretty good games, too, as Colorado won its third in a row, 5-3 against the slumping Penguins, who have lost seven of eight. - Jim Benton, Denver Post
This isn't the comeback team we saw earlier in the year. This isn't even the sort of team that can hold a lead. Instead this is a team with no hope, no drive and no passion whatsoever. - FrankD, PensBurgh
Colorado is 9-1-0 in its last 10 games against the Penguins. ... Pittsburgh's last victory in Denver was a 3-2 win on Feb. 25, 1999. - AP
Milan Hejduk didn't practice [yesterday], but he's fine. Saw him walking around without any apparent problems. Granato said he just wanted to rest Hejduk, who plays a lot of minutes and usually stays on the ice a lot longer than most teammates when he practices. Hejduk also won't get the benefit of the three-day break for the All-Star Game, since he'll be playing. - Rick Sadowski, Rocky Mountain News