When the Avalanche and Blackhawks get together, hockey is just fun to watch. After sitting through a couple of defensive sludge-fests in Nashville and St. Louis, Colorado finally got to match-up against a team that loves to Run & Gun and play in the open ice as much as they do -- the juxtaposition was startling. It was a nationally televised game and Patrick Kane's 26-game scoring streak was on the line.
The Nathan MacKinnon-centered top line asserted themselves early with plenty of quality scoring chances. They were matched shift-for-shift with the venerable Jonathan Toews, yet still managed to look dangerous every time they climbed over the boards. Their tenacity would lead to the first score of the game at the 14:30 mark, when MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog combined to set-up Matt Duchene with a prime opportunity below the left circle. The Avalanche's red-hot scorer aimed a wrist shot far-post and hit his target to put his team up 1-0 (Video). The period would end with the Avs have a slight edge in shots forward (13-12) and having committed just one penalty.
The 2nd Period has given the Avs fits the past few games. After jumping out to early leads, they shut down into a conservative defensive formation and are content to let their goalie finish the game. Fortunately the one-goal lead didn't warrant this for much of the period, and the team played their best middle frame of hockey during this road trip. They'd even get on the board, when Carl Soderberg beat out an iced puck, curled back up the boards, and fired a cross-ice pass to recent benchwarmer Zach Redmond who rushed up ice and sent the puck into the net, making the score 2-0 (Video). At this point you started to see Colorado's forecheck back-off considerably.
The 3rd Period was up and down. Chicago probably got its best chance when Jack Skille through the puck over the glass and drew a Delay of Game penalty. But Semyon Varlamov wasn't interested in being scored on tonight. After a string of outstanding games, he decided shutout would be a fun thing to do. When the Blackhawks regular efforts couldn't catch up, they pulled their goalie; and still, Varlamov couldn't be bothered with their sorry shot attempts. During this sequence of 6-on-5 play, Tyson Barrie dug a puck out of the boards, dished it to MacKinnon, who found Landeskog with a great angle to shoot at the empty net. The captain buried it from the Avalanche blue line and sealed the game (Video).
- Semyon Varlamov - A shutout is good, right? You bet it is. Varly had a .972 Save Percentage on this road trip and appears to have fully regained his confidence. Colorado has rattle off more than a few wins of late and he's been a huge reason.
- Tyson Barrie - The puck-moving defenseman had one of his better games of the season, leading the breakout, carrying the puck through the neutral zone, and manning the blue line in the Chicago zone. Got a secondary assist on the Landeskog empty netter and led the team in CF differential.
- Nathan MacKinnon - The Avs' star center is going through a dry stretch as far as his goal scoring, but his line was fantastic tonight against a tough Blackhawks team. Two assists, including one of the opening goal (and game winner).
- Jack Skille - Took a bad Delay of Game penalty in the 3rd Period that could have let Chicago back in the game. But I won't place all the blame of him: Patrick Roy's Turtle-rama strategy mandates players clear the puck out of the zone through the air when the team has the lead, even if they're wide open in the corner and perfectly capable of making an outlet pass. This was both failure of the player AND system.
- Andrew Shaw - No one is going to call Andrew Shaw a dirty player, but it was very unfortunate when went to check Francois Beauchemin and ended up head-butting him into the glass, leaping through the hit after making contact. He knocked Beauchemin from the game and earned himself a mere 2:00 minor penalty. The NHL has ruled very unfavorably toward the Avalanche this season on a number of hits, earning five-minute major penalties and subsequent suspensions. Not holding my breath for equal treatment from the NHL Safety Committee.
- Patrick Kane's Record - Good Riddance.