Captain Gabriel Landeskog was a late scratch tonight, with a back injury of unknown severity. His absence wasn't felt initially; but his defense and leadership were sorely missed late in the game as the Avalanche began to crack. Superstars Sydney Crosby (from Cole Harbour), Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel combined for all of one point and the Avalanche still found a way to lose.
Matt Duchene got the Avalanche on the board first just 5:34 into the game. Mikhail Grigorenko, subbing in for the injured Landeskog, made a nice defensive play against the boards and chipped the puck to Nathan MacKinnon, who skated up ice and unleashed a wrist shot off Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. The puck deflected off his pads toward Duchene on the weak side, who drilled it home. (NHL.com Replay) The Penguins would strike back at 10:56 after a poor backhanded chip by Chris Wagner that failed to leave the defensive zone. Patric Hornqvuist picked up the puck at the blue line and fired toward the net through traffic. Matt Cullen then tipped the puck downward and it slipped through Reto Berra's five-hole -- tie game (NHL.com Replay). Erik Johnson, who has been skating like a banshee lately (you know, if Condors could be banshees), five minutes later took a puck through a crowded neutral zone, dished it to Carl Soderberg streaking down his right side, and kept going straight to the front of the net. Soderberg then passed the puck back to Johnson who angled it past Fleury to make the game 2-1. (NHL.com Replay)
The second period would prove to be much less exciting as far as scoring goes. Roy started juggling his lines in preparation for turtle deployment and wasn't finding much success. Pittsburgh outshot Colorado considerably during the period (17 CF to 7) and a sharp Reto Berra was the only thing keeping the Avs afloat for long stretches. The buzzer sounded mercifully with the Avs still up 2-1.
The third period would not prove as kind, but it didn't appear that way initially. The Penguins committed two penalties within close succession at the 4:55 mark, giving the Avalanche a 5-on-3 opportunity for 45 seconds. Colorado couldn't capitalize; and after Pittsburgh got back to full-strength, they got a 3-on-2 odd-man rush and scored on a Beau Bennett backhand. (NHL.com Replay) This would prove to be the turning point in the game. The Avalanche, without their complete top-line, didn't have the same kind of firepower to get back in the game, and the Penguins didn't let up. Hornqvuist would score again just 2:05 later when Olli Maata shot from a poor angle toward the side of the net. The puck would inexplicably shoot straight in the air. Hornqvuist, checking Nick Holden right into Reto Berra, somehow got a stick on the puck as well as it fell into the net. After official replay for high sticking and a coach's challenge for goalie interference (yes, back-to-back), the goal was determined legal to the dismay of Avalanche fans. (NHL.com Replay) Another Beau Bennett goal 1:19 later on a 2-on-1 put the game out of reach. (NHL.com Replay)
- Beau Bennett - The 4th-year pro scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season on a night his team needed it. Scoring from secondary lines will win a lot of games in the NHL.
- Erik Johnson - His play of late has been just spectacular to watch. His vision, puckhandling, and strength to get through the neutral zone is really impressive to watch. Chalk up another goal for the big guy.
- Reto Berra - The final stat line doesn't look good (.879 Save%), but that doesn't tell the whole story. He made numerous saves tonight that kept the team ahead. The first and second goals weren't his fault.
- Patrick Roy - After having seemingly found a winning formula the last couple of weeks, he got cute with the lines tonight and the team suffered. Losing your top-line LW right before the game is tough, but that can't throw a monkey wrench in the entire plan. Coach has to trust the next man up.
- Holden/Barrie Garbage Fire - Two defensemen getting Top-4 minutes just cannot be Minus-13 and Minus-15 CF+/-. Add in the ineffective powerplay that Barrie QBs and you've got a terrible recipe for success. They need more consistent production out of these two. Pittsburgh's middle pairing (Letang/Maata) was Plus-13 and 15. How huge of an advantage is that?