As soon as the Avalanche's refurbished lines started making the rounds online, we knew we were in for an interesting game. Pairing the much-slower Max Talbot with Duchene and MacKinnon seemed like a particularly interesting choice, but on the other hand, if your offense as-is isn't functional, what harm could it cause?
The well-rested Buffalo Sabres were coming off a three day rest period, the Avs rebounding off a shutout loss to Pittsburgh. Of note, the Sabres haven't beaten Colorado since 2005. And they couldn't get it done tonight, either.
Tanguay - Mitchell - Iginla
Landeskog - O'Reilly - Briere
Talbot - Duchene - MacKinnon
McLeod - Cliche - Bordeleau
Hejda - Johnson
Stuart - Redmond
Barrie - Guenin
Kevin Calvin Pickard
The period opened you might expect a game between these two teams to go: lots of back and forth, no clear leader established. Finally, the Avs got a little action going, and a snazzy thread pass from Max Talbot to Nathan MacKinnon set up Erik Johnson for a pretty little goal. Johnson slipped between a pair of Sabres and snuck the puck into the corner past Jhonas Enroth's pad.
Then rookie goaltender Calvin Pickard got some exercise, facing shots both before and after Buffalo went on the power play thanks to a penalty on Marc-Andre Cliche. Fortunately for the Avalanche, the Sabres are the only team in the NHL with a power play unit worse than their own, so the PP didn't look particularly dangerous.
As the penalty was winding down, Buffalo's Mikhail Grigorenko flubbed a pass in the neutral zone. Ryan O'Reilly was in 2013-14 season form, sneaking in and picking off the puck like a pesky little pickpocket. Racing toward Enroth in net, O'Reilly snuck a sweet little pass to Cody McLeod, who drove the net and tucked the puck home.
As MHH staffer Steve House said on Twitter tonight: if you give up shorthanded goals to Cody McLeod, you're gonna have a bad time.
For the rest of the period, both teams exchanged some chances, including a lucky break for the Avs when the Sabres were caught offsides on a 3-on-1. John Mitchell and Nathan MacKinnon in particular looked nice and aggressive.
With about three minutes remaining, MacKinnon got a fantastic scoring chance. He split the D and despite drawing a penalty from our old pal Andre Benoit, he still managed to snap the shot off. It's great to see MacK stepping up and applying pressure after what's surely a frustrating goalless streak for him.
The penalty ended 2-0 Avs, though the Sabres led in shots.
The second period was, in a lot of ways, just not particularly noteworthy. The Sabres got some shots on Pickard in the opening minutes, but nothing that looked too deadly. Erik Johnson was putting in the big minutes and we spotted Barrie and Redmond together, but juggling the d-men didn't seem to have much of an effect on the momentum of the game.
Future NHL All-Star Zemgus Girgensons got a good look in the early minutes of the period, but O'Reilly broke up the play by getting between Zemgus and his target when he attempted a centering pass right in front of Pickard. For all the flak O'Reilly has been catching this year, he continues to quietly do the little things right.
The Avalanche got a power play, but it didn't have much of an impact.
As the period went on, the Sabres got a lot more physical, including a big check by Nikita Zadorov that took out both Matt Duchene and Max Talbot. Speaking of those two, the Talbot/Duchene/MacKinnon line was putting in the hard yards, doing a great job keeping the puck in the Sabres' zone.
Toward the end of the period, momentum shifted significantly in Buffalo's favour. The Sabres got some good shots on Pickard, including a worrisome number of second and third attempts. The Avalanche's rebound control looked pretty sloppy, but Pickard was in fine form and kept on top of things. The Sabres broadcast also gave a special shout-out to Brad Stuart and how mindful he was of Pickard's line of sight, avoiding screening his own goaltender. I noticed this as well and Stuart overall played a solid period.
At the end of the second, it was announced that Buffalo's Tyler Myers and Patrick Kaleta were both out for the game. This meant Zadorov had to double-shift the remainder of the game. He logged 17 minutes of ice time in two periods, reminiscent of how the Avs have utilised Erik Johnson.
The period ended with no goals scored. Score still 2-0 Avalanche, shots 21-16 in favour of Buffalo.
The Avs came out to play in the third, which is refreshing to type. Less than two minutes into the period, John Mitchell forced a turnover in the defensive zone, bumping Buffalo's Marcus Foligno right off the puck along the boards. Mitchell carried the puck in, zipped it to Jarome Iginla, and Iginla in turn fed Alex Tanguay with a skillful pass. Tanguay showed characteristic patience, then flipped the puck top shelf right up into the corner of the net.
At five minutes in, Daniel Briere took a hard tumble courtesy of a slew foot from Buffalo's Johan Larsson, who was called up that very same day from the AHL's Rochester Americans. Briere looked all right and played the rest of the game, but even the Sabres broadcast reckoned the League might take a look at that play. I'm not holding my breath.
On the power play, Johnny Mitchell showed up again, left completely unguarded to slap a one-timer past Enroth. In a role reversal of the last goal, Tanguay was the primary helper, with another assist to Iginla.
O'Reilly was called for slashing a short time later, and Cal Pickard came up big and made a great pad save on Buffalo's Cody Hodgson during the Sabres' power play.
The Sabres began to apply late pressure, taking advantage of an Avs team that was starting to look pretty tired. Matt Duchene in particular looked like he needed a breather.
Buffalo finally scored at 13:27, nipping Pickard's shutout attempt int he bud courtesy of a goal from Larsson. The goal came after a period of sustained pressure by the Sabres, and Nate Guenin left Larsson unguarded, allowing him to leap in from the point and pot the puck off a feed from Chris Stewart.
Buffalo makes it 4-1:
The Avs were on the PK as the game died down, John Mitchell in the box for cross-checking, but the Sabres weren't able to generate any PP magic that late in the game. Ted Nolan pulled Enroth with over four minutes remaining, his team still down by three. The last few minutes of the game seemed like they were played solely in the Avalanche's zone, but Pickard was sharp.
To round things off, Alex Tanguay netted his second goal of the night with :25 on the clock. The empty-net goal was off a pass from Iginla, and that was all she wrote.
Final score: 5-1 Avalanche.
MHH Three Stars
1. Alex Tanguay just plays good hockey for this team. He shows up, works hard, and the entire squad reaps the benefits. With 2G and 1A tonight, he's not bad for an old dude, huh?
2. Calvin Pickard, who stopped 28 of 29. .966 save percentage for the night, now the winningest goaltender on the team with a record of 5-5-2.
3. John Mitchell with 1G and 1A and a level of hustle that can't be quantified. He centered the first line well and my God does this team miss him when he's hurt.
Honourable mentions go to Johnson, O'Reilly, and McLeod. EJ had over 26 minutes of ice time and a goal. O'Reilly had another quietly competent game despite only tallying one assist. And of course Cody Mac with the shorthanded goal.
Dennis Everberg was a healthy scratch tonight, which was a shame with how well he's been playing. Nick Holden as a healthy scratch though? Can't say we particularly missed him. After his breakout season in 2013-14, Holden has a lot of work to do to redeem himself.
I don't know about you guys, but I still cry a little every time I look out on the ice and don't see Jamie McGinn. Get well soon, Ginner!
Next Up: Avs @ Red Wings
The team pays a kindly hello against their old pals from the Motor City.
The Avalanche take on the Red Wings in Detroit tomorrow at 4:00PM Mountain Time.