The Avalanche and Predators entered tonight's contest under very different circumstances. The Avalanche, coming off two consecutive days of practice and rest preparing for a rematch against the Predators, and the Predators, arriving in Denver late last night after losing a shootout in St. Louis. The Avalanche have their starting goalie in net and the Predators have their third stringer. Despite the clear schedule advantage for the Avalanche, it was the Predators who came out firing in the early minutes of the first period. The Avalanche's first few shifts were tentative at best, and Semyon Varlamov was forced to cover the puck a few times early on, including after a good shot from Calle Jarnkrok. Things started to look dire when the Avalanche's 4th line, combined with Tyson Barrie and Nate Guenin were caught out on a 1:45 second shift. The Avs had multiple chances to clear, including one where Marc Andre Cliche carried the puck all the way to the redline, but they never got the puck over Nashville's blueline and were thus unable to make a full linechange.
After a whistle the Avalanche countered with a very effective and purposeful shift from the Duchene line, starting with a great cycle down low by Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. The Avs followed up with two more strong shifts from the 2nd and 3rd lines but all of their opportunities found their way wide of the Nashville net early. Iginla, Tanguay, Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Holden all featured good hard shots towards the net which missed the 6x4. The first shot on net came after the 5:00 mark for the Avalanche, when Matt Duchene centered the puck in the crease for Jarome Iginla. Iginla tried to tuck the puck under Mazanec but the rookie goalie overcame his first test of the night.
By the 10:00 mark the Avalanche started to tilt the ice back in their favor, denying Nashville a shot on net for over 8:00 and creating a handful of high quality scoring chances for themselves. With 8:37 seconds to play Matt Duchene and Nick Holden drove the net on a 2-on-2 opportunity. As Duchene sauced a pass over to Holden, Holden was given the old can-opener by Roman Josi and he went careening dangerously into the end boards. The violent collision on Holden's side was certainly reminiscent of John Mitchell's injury last year and Jesse Winchester's (likely season ending) injury in preseason. Holden appeared uninjured.
The Avalanche spent the first half of the power play battling for pucks in the Nashville zone, but opened the second half with an excellent zone entry opportunity for Nathan MacKinnon, who split the D and flew in on net with a top shelf backhander. Mazanec awkwardly made the save. From there the Avalanche power play imploded as per usual, failing to enter the zone with possession again in the remaining 45 seconds and even icing the puck once. (Also yes, McLeod is still inexplicably a member of the power play unit).
Just moments after the power play expired Ryan O`Reilly picked up a leading pass at the Nashville blueline, carried the puck deep and fed it across the Nashville crease to Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon had a great chance and could not bury the puck behind Mazanec, but Max Talbot who had just arrived to the play after a line change tapped the rebound into a wide open net. 1-0 Avs.
After a long stretch of Avalanche-controlled hockey, the Predators responded with a few strong shifts after Maxime Talbot's opening goal. The scariest moment came when Shea Weber fired a hard centering pass on net from the right side point, and Brad Stuart, attempting to break up the pass, deflected it right on net up high. Varlamov was quick to react, and deflected the puck away with the blocker. Stuart decided he didn't help the Predators enough in overtime last game and decided to skip the middle man this time by trying to beat Varlamov himself. No luck.
Matt Duchene was electric in the first period. Every time he touched the puck you could feel the young center on the verge of making something incredible happen, but unfortunately he just couldn't seem to break through. Duchene had a number of what I'll call "near-Dutchy's" in the first, attacking the zone with speed and losing an edge, beating a defenseman with a move but bobbling the puck, or missing his target with a good shooting opportunity. If Duchene keeps up that play in the last 40, he's bound to break through with a couple of points this game.
The Avalanche started the second period where they left off in the first, with some solid overall hockey. The Avalanche nearly doubled their lead at the 18 minute mark when Ryan O`Reilly took a pass off his foot in the right faceoff circle, kicked it to his stick and fired high shot side on Mazenec. Mazenev made his bast save of the night to move across the crease and deny O'Reilly with the blocker.
The Avalanche would relinquish the momentum moments later, when Zach Redmond went to defend Filip Forsberg 1-on-1 in the Avs zone. Forsberg made a good move to slip the puck past Redmond, but Redmond played the the Calder candidate well, maintaining his body position and playing the body on Forsberg. Redmond had his stick held under Forsberg's elbow so of course, he was wrongly called for a holding penalty. The Avalanche penalty kill was extremely aggressive and succeeded not only in killing off the penalty, but also in preventing a number of zone entries for the Predators (for once this kill was not all on Varly's back). At the end of the kill, however, the Avalanche had a defensive breakdown which allowed Gabriel Bourque a short breakaway at the Avs net. Varlamov was patient and then explosive as he took the net away from Bourque to hold the Avalanche lead.
7:00 into the period the Avalanche started to re-establish their offensive presence. First Zach Redmond had a low driving shot on net through traffic, then Jan Hejda fired a slapshot on net which knocked off Mazanec's helmet and earned a whistle. On the ensuing faceoff Ryan O`Reilly had a near goal when he snuck into the blue paint behind the Nashville defense and Nathan MacKinnon fed him with a lob pass from the high right circle. MacKInnon's pass was just inches off target and deflected off of Mazanec (who moved well to cut off the angle) before it could reach O'Reilly's waiting stick blade.
The second half of the period, however, was another story entirely, as the Predators starting to take the game back over. The Predators first great chance came off an enormous Shea Weber slapshot from the left point. If you remember last weekend, Weber can crank that sucker at 108.5 mph. That might explain Semyon Varlamov's WTF JUST HAPPENED face right after the shot
On the next shift the Avalanche dodged another bullet, as Filip Forsberg entered the Avs zone, danced around Brad Stuart basically untouched, and reached far-side on Semyon Varlamov only to be denied by the right post. To their credit the Avalanche responded well to those couple of scary shifts in their own zone, and spent a couple of very dangerous back to back shifts in the Nashville zone. First Briere, Cliche, and Talbot had an outstanding offensive shift that started with a great pass from Cliche from behind the Predators net. Briere fired on net and nearly beat Mazanec short side, the rebound popped out right towards Nick Holden in the crease, but he was hauled down by a Nashville defender. Later in the shift Cliche was fed with a great opportunity in the slot and fell while firing on net. On the next shift Ryan O'Reilly had a great opportunity short side again and nearly beat Mazanec over the shoulder.
The Avalanche unfortunately could not sustain their momentum, as Cody McLeod took a hooking penalty as he chased Shea Weber behind the Predators net on a relentless forecheck. It wasn't a terrible call, as Cody's stick did whack Weber on the hands, but it was pretty light considering Everberg was tackled by a Nashville defenseman on the same shift, and Nick Holden was hauled down in the crease on an Avs scoring chance a few shifts prior. Consistency please.
The Avalanche killed off the 1:19 of power play time remaining in the period without giving Nashville any scoring chances, and would face another 41 seconds of penalty killing to open the third period.
If Duchene was the Avs best player in the first period, Ryan O'Reilly was certainly the Avalanche standout in the second. He had a phenomenal period.
Aside from one hard Forsberg wrist shot from the top of the right circle, the Avalanche killed the rest of the Nashville penalty without incident,then immediately went back on the attack. The Avs nearly doubled up their lead early when Nathan MacKinnon slipped a seeing-eye-pass through 2 Nashville defenseman and towards a wide open O'Reilly in the slot. Unfortunately MacKinnon's pass was just behind O'Reilly and he couldn't corral the puck. A few seconds later O'Reilly took the puck behind the Preds net and fed out front for MacKinnon and Landeskog on the doorstep. They got a shot on net, but they were too close to the goalies' pad to do much with it.
On MacKinnon's next shift, the Avalanche sophomore split the Nashville defense and drew a hooking penalty as he drove the net. The first minute of the power play was one of the best we've seen from the Avalanche in weeks, as they passed effectively, got in close and took shots on net, but after Landeskog was denied in close the Avalanche got too fancy with the puck and squandered the rest of their time.
Despite some struggles getting set up, however, the Avs' second power play unit would not be denied a goal. They set up in the Predators zone with just a few seconds left on the power play and began cycling high to low as Varlamov was banging his stick on the ice to signal a Nashville player leaving the ice. The Avs had a good leading pass to Cody McLeod in front of the net (a carbon copy of MacKinnon and O'Reilly's chance in the 2nd) but the puck slipped away. McLeod then established a good screen on Mazanec while the Avs started to work the perimeter. Tanguay fed the puck to Matt Duchene from the point, who cycled in behind the net and slipped the puck out to Jarome Iginla sneaking in below the right side faceoff dot. Iginla, like he has so many times in his historic career, slammed the puck home with his beauty of a one-timer. The "slow starter" has 11 goals in his last 24 games for the Avalanche, including 3 games straight. His 16th goal here was the 1,200th point of his NHL career. An incredible milestone for an incredible player. We're so lucky to see the end of his career happen here in Denver.
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After the goal there was a mysterious whistle as the Avalanche exited their zone, and Altitude went to a TV timeout. When we returned, Colin Wilson was serving a 2:00 penalty for the predators leading scorer Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro was given, 2:00 for unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as a 10:00 misconduct and a game misconduct. Evidently the officials did not like something he said.
Something struck me about the Ribeiro penalty (aside from his well known attitude issues) and then I remembered that he was given another misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct last season against the Avalanche. Here's the story on that. You've got to wonder about the mouth on this guy that refs keep kicking him out of games for it.
The Avalanche didn't register a shot on goal during the power play and spent very little time in the offensive zone. The only chance came on a missed shot-pass to McLeod in his usual spot on the power play. The puck whistled wide of McLeod and Nashville cleared the puck with ease.
The Avalanche definitely took their foot off the gas in the final 10 minutes of the period and they paid for it on one horrible shift for the top line. First Jarome Iginla took a hard slapshot off the foot which had him hobbling around the ice with a stinger. Then Alex Tanguay blocked a Seth Jones slapshot with his open palm. Tanguay shook off his own glove, left the ice, and headed straight for the locker room. All bad signs, but luckily he would return to the bench a few minutes later.
The Predators continued to possess the puck in the Avs zone but their attack was mostly lackluster. With 5:13 left the Predators had their best opportunity of the third period when drove the left side of the net then tried to wrap around on the right. Varlamov dove across the net and made the save with his face. Without a doubt the best save of the night.
On the next play John Mitchell received a Nashville high stick in his mouth, the Avalanche went on the power play, but they did absolutely nothing with it. Nashville never really pressed back after the power play and never threatened the Avalanche lead again. Max Talbot had a curious chance at 2:22 seconds left in the game when he fired at Mazenec's glove and the goalie unwittingly dropped the puck into his crease. Dennis Everberg was there but couldn't get his stick on the rebound.
Nashville pulled the goalie with a little over 2:00 on the clock and the Avalanche found themselves on the receiving end of one of last year's most memorable Avalanche plays. Dennis Everberg lobbed the puck at the empty net looking for his 2nd career NHL goal, and though his aim be true, Roman Josi was quick enough to snag the puck from the gaping net mouth Erik Johnson style.
The Avs wouldn't be denied their empty net goal, however. A few shifts later MacKinnon stole the puck on the forecheck, made his way behind the Nashville net and fed the struggling Gabe Landeskog in front. Landeskog sunk the shot and sent the Avs home with 1:11 left on the clock and stole any hope of a comeback. Hopefully that goal gets the Captain going in the right direction.
MHH Three Stars:
1. Semyon Varlamov - 23 saves in his 4th shutout of the season. Fewer than he has to make most nights, but a few great ones nonetheless
2. Ryan O'Reilly - Dominant all night on both sides of the puck, 1 assist, trailed only Tyson Barrie in ice time and went 11/15 on the faceoff dot.
3. Nathan MacKinnon - 2 assists and 4 shots on net.
3. (also) Jarome Iginla - For a huge goal and reaching an incredible career milestone
Next Up: The Avalanche head to Dallas on Tuesday to take on the Stars