The first period featured the strengths of both teams’ transition games going head-to-head. The Avalanche absolutely feasted on the center of the ice as they drove the play deep into the Isles’ zone. The shutdown line of Paul Stastny and Company wanted to set up shop behind the net and run the cycle game while the Duchene was flying into the zone and peppering Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin with some pretty sick toe drags through defensemen’s legs. He also drew a tripping call after driving wide and pulling the puck to his backhand about 6 inches in front of the crease. Colorado worked the puck around the zone well but Poulin and the 30th ranked Islander penalty kill escaped unharmed giving up only one shot.
Now let’s talk about Erik Johnson. He started out in 5th gear and seemed to be everywhere making plays. He had a hiccup after a bad pass that lead to Semyon Varlamov’s only real spectacular save of the period on the resulting 2-on-1, but otherwise his skating and passing was off the charts. The real music of the period had to be between Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog who seem to feed off each other and the other's willingness to drive hard to the net and hammer shots on goal. Not to be outdone, his defensive partner, Jan Hejda, had the Isles on lockdown. At the end of the Isles’ only power play opportunity of the period (and after a good clear by Cody McLeod led to New York finally able to get their 1st unit on the ice), the top guys for the Isles went to work with a passing clinic and Hejda read the play perfectly. He got to a wide-open John Tavares on the back door, lifted his stick, redirected the puck behind the net with his skate, and knocked down the former 1st overall pick to prevent the easy layup goal. No big deal. Shots finished 9-7 for the Avs on the period.
The second period opened with a strong 60 second shift by Stastny’s line. A crisp cycle kept the Tavares line pinned in their end. They did everything but score. This group of forwards, even though cobbled together somewhat, looks comfortable together and small, individual, quality plays from one guy seem to spur his linemates. Colorado would need that chemistry soon thereafter as Cory Sarich laid a dangerous knee-on-knee hit on Kyle Okposo with just under four minutes gone in the frame. The Avalanche penalty kill was up to the task. Though three shots got through to Varlamov, they prevented a goal from a powerplay unit that has been operating at a 50% clip of late. John Mitchell in particular was (dare I say it) Johnny on the spot for a few good clears.
Plenty of close calls by both teams throughout the frame; specifically a long, slow, sliding pokecheck by Johnson on a streaking Michael Grabner, some great high-speed passing by the Duchene line, the bottom two lines getting dominated in possession, and some superb plays on the Avalanche’s own power play (resulting from a fucking blatant goaltender interference call on Grabner) with 6 minutes left in the period. The man advantage had two well-designed plays that got MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Stastny some garbage goal opportunities. Poulin took away those chances with some timely covers and sprawling play.
Then with just under two minutes remaining in the 2nd period, an innocent pass from Andre Benoit to the rookie on his side of the red developed into a 3 or 4 second symphony of perfection from Nathan MacKinnon. With Oklahoma native Matt Donovan in pretty decent position TWELVE FEET IN FRONT OF HIM, MacKinnon pulled the hockey equivalent of the posterized dunk on the former Denver Pioneer. He blew past the Isles defenseman, leaving nothing but tears in his wake, streaked in and roofed it top shelf glove side over a sprawling Poulin. That goal was so sick it needs a medically induced coma to recover.
The Avs started the period leading in shots 22-16 and with Roy back in control of the matchups. One tool at his disposal was Tyson Barrie, who left in the 2nd after getting hit by Cal Clutterbuck, but was back on the bench to start the third. Johnson started the period strong, again showing off his skating and offensive instincts while still being defensively responsible and helping shut down the Tavares line. Apparently the Altitude crew thought the game was over because less than a minute after they blathered on-and-on about how great the Colorado D was playing against the recently potent Isles, Sarich, Benoit, and MacKinnon combined on a broken play and the game-tying goal. After Sarich chased his man into the corner, and Benoit followed for some weird reason, a centering pass from Calvin de Haan deflected off of Benoit straight to an uncovered Brock Nelson in the slot. Why was he uncovered? Because MacKinnon had drifted toward the same corner as the two defensemen. Varlamov was caught deep in his crease and the shot got between his arm and body. Game tied.
The remainder of the period was 85% tight-checking and physical (for two teams who don’t have a lot of that up and down their respective lineups) and 15% breakaways and odd-man rushes. The bottom two Colorado lines played their best period of the night and were effective, even if McLeod was stoned on a breakaway after an effective forecheck turned over the puck. MacKinnon showed off his wheels again after getting a spectacular pass from Jamie McGinn and drove to the net for a backhand shot that Poulin waited out for a great save. Not to be outdone, Grabner seemed to be finding more time and space as he was free to zip into the zone and shoot on a couple of occasions. Varlamov played great as well, stepping out to cut down John Tavares after he slipped behind the defense and later stoned the Isles’ #1 threat on the doorstep after another pretty-passing-filled New York possession. The period would end with good Isles chances, though I imagine Tavares will be having PTSD flashbacks staring #8 for a few days. The game went to 4-on-4 hockey with the shots still favoring the Avs 29-21.
Unlike the last OT game that ended on the first shift, this game saw both teams get a couple of quality chances including Duchene knocking a puck out of mid-air backhanded on a damn-lucky Poulin and Varlamov stoning the patient New York offense when the defense pinched for a quality one-timer from the top of the left circle. Then, Barrie missed a catch along the boards at the blueline that sprung Grabner who had somehow gotten behind the D. Fortunately the puck rolled off of his stick before he could get a good shot on the Colorado netminder. Unfortunately the speedy winger was able to gather the puck and circle the zone using a pick by Frans Neilson to whip the game-winner past Varlamov to give the Islanders the road OT win.
So, that was the end of the all-important homestand. The Avs managed to squeeze 10 points out of a possible 14, so all-in-all, not a bad outcome by any stretch. The odd manner in which they accomplished that (wins over San Jose and Chicago couple by losses to Calgary and the Isles) is a little reminiscent of the teams of the last few years who seem to play up/down to their competition somewhat. That said, even with two important pieces of the offense out in Ryan O`Reilly and Alex Tanguay, Colorado has set themselves up well for a run toward the Olympic break and hopefully their first playoff appearance since 2010.
- Jamie McGinn was later credited with the 2nd assist on MacKinnon’s goal giving him 100 points in his NHL career.
- WHAT THE FUCK DOES MATT DUCHENE HAVE TO DO TO GET A CALL BEHIND THE NET? Speaking of that stuff, I'm pretty sure Jan Hejda would have to be decapitated before drawing a high-sticking penalty in this game.
- Roy had enough of something late in the third and switched up the bottom two pairs going with Benoit-Holden and Barrie-Sarich down the stretch. So yeah, holding balls and very sorry. About sums it up.
Right back at it tomorrow night as the Avs travel to the polar vortex' summer home to take on the 4-game win streak of the Wild. Puck drops at 6 pm MT.