1,000 games for Alex Tanguay, and game 1 for Joey Hishon. Lets go.
Patrick Roy started the game with Alex Tanguay and the Avalanche's 3rd line against Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, honoring his former roommate with the first shift of the game. The Avalanche quickly rolled through all four lines and each line produced quality possession and scoring chances in the offensive zone. On his first shift with Duchene and Iginla, Avs' newcomer Jordan Caron did exactly as he promised in interviews yesterday at practice, and headed straight for the front of the Pittsburgh net. He set a good screen, but the Avs were unable to get a shot through the Penguin's defense.
The Avalanche played all around solid hockey in the early goings of this game. All four lines were clicking, everyone was moving the puck up ice, and while Matt Duchene, Alex Tanguay, and Joey Hishon showed some strong individual efforts on their lines, it was the Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O`Reilly, and Nathan MacKinnon line that stole the show early (Yes, stole the show from Malkin, Crosby, and even Dan Winnik). They entered the zone over and over with speed and confidence and with 13 minutes to go created an incredible chance for Tyson Barrie in the high slot, but the Pittsburgh goal tender stood tall and robbed him with the glove. After the commercial break, the Avs third line followed suit with a long possession in the Pittsburgh zone and on two separate occasions John Mitchell made absolutely dazzling dekes and passes to set up Dennis Everberg for a scoring chance. Everberg missed once and was stopped once, bringing us to the games halfway mark with no score, and only one shot on goal for the Penguins.
The Penguins got their 2nd shot of the night with 9:56 remaining in the first period, when a puck squirted free to the right-side point for Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy snapped a very fast wrister for the near side and Varlamov had to come across very hard on an aggressive angle to catch the puck between his pads. The Av's former Bruins duo had a 2-on-1 opportunity shortly thereafter, but Jarome Iginla sent his pass too high in the air for Caron to retrieve. Caron took a baseball swing at the puck as it sailed past him near the Pittsburgh crease.
The Avalanche had their first really scary turnover of the night with 7:00 remaining in the first period, and they nearly paid for it, since the giveaway immediately resulted in Sidney Crosby streaking down the halfboards with the puck. Crosby used the odd-man-rush to make a great pass across the ice, but David Perron fanned on the shot. Pittsburgh started to gain a major foothold in the game following the Perron chance, but the Avalanche were bailed out in their own end though when Blake Comeau clipped Nathan MacKinnon and took an interference penalty. The Avs first power play unit put on a hapless performance in the first 75 seconds, surrendering a 2-on-1 to Daniel Winnik and Maxim Lapierre. The Avs second unit only say 20 some seconds of power play time, but as the penalty expired they had the Avs best chance of the night so far. Brad Stuart made the slowest spin move of all time on the right point, then slid the puck to the center of the O-zone for Ryan O'Reilly. O'Reilly one-touched the pass to Nathan MacKinnon at the right post, who one-touched the puck directly back across the ice to Tyson Barrie pinching from the left point.
Marc Andre Fleury made his best (and maybe luckiest) save of the game so far to deny Barrie an absolute highlight reel goal.
With 2:00 left the Avalanche's 3rd line had another great shift in the offensive zone with Alex Tanguay firing a shot towards the net while Dennis Everberg crashed the crease. They left the ice, and the 4th line stepped on. Joey Hishon took the puck in transition and singlehandedly broke it through the neutral zone and split the defense for a hard wrister on net. In the periods final minute the Avalanche looked hemmed in their own zone again after a Zach Redmond turnover, but Redmond amended for his misdeeds and stole the puck back from the point and stepped around Comeau looking at 150 feet of open ice. Redmond stepped on Comeau's stick and drew a tripping penalty to give the Avs 37 seconds of power play time at the end of the period. With just a few seconds left on the clock, the Avs made a great cycle play on the power play to set Ryan O`Reilly up close to the Penguin's net. O'Reilly elevated the puck for the top shelf but Fleury was quick to try with the glove, and deflected the puck up over the crossbar with the outside of his arm. Doesn't get much closer than that.
It didn't take long for the Avs to capitalize on their remaining power play time at the opening of the 2nd period. The Avs' Tyson Barrie took the puck in his own zone, sent it across to Gabe Landeskog on the farside and Landeskog found Iginla in the neutral zone. Iginla carried the puck across the red line, then the blue, then wound up for a huge slapshot that beat Marc Andre Fleury on the far side just 13 seconds into the 2nd period. The goal was Iginla's 20th, but even cooler, the Pepsi Center does a 2nd period promotion where, if the team scores in the first 30 seconds, a lucky fan wins a CAR. Jarome has scored 20 goals a lot of times in his career, but I'm guessing that was the first "car-winning" goal of his career. 1-0 Avs.
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The game was relatively even following the Avalanche goal, but the Penguins got the next great chance of the period when Dustin Penner took advantage of a Nick Holden error to slide the puck across the crease for Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist looked to have a sure goal, but Varlamov was quick to get across the crease. The ice tilted a bit in Pittsburgh's favor over the first 5 minutes, and the Avalanche did not register a 2nd period. Eventually during a long Pittsburgh possession, Jan Hejda was called for holding and the Avalanche went to the penalty kill for the first time of the night.
The Avs penalty kill started off great and stayed that way for the whole 2:00 minutes. Seconds into the penalty Dennis Everberg stole the puck and made his way down the ice, firing an uncharacteristically sharp wrister on net and forcing Fleury to glove the puck for a whistle. On the next change, the Cliche replaced Everberg as O'Reilly's PK partner, and, attempting to match Everberg's short handed offense, deflected a puck off his stick/foot at Varlamov from just outside the crease. The Cliche shot would be the Penguins most dangerous opportunity, as Ryan O'Reilly chipped the puck up ice to himself and killed much of the remaining time off carrying the puck through the offensive zone.
A short time after the penalty expired, Tyson Barrie took an odd spill behind the Avs net and floated the puck aimlessly into the slot, where it was picked up by Steve Downie. Downie looked to have a dangerous chance in front, but Joey Hishon turned, backchecked hard, and picked Downie's pocket just as he attempted to dish the puck to his linemate in front of the Avs net.
The game had evened out considerably, but with about 6:00 left in the period, Nathan MacKinnon absolutely TOOK OVER THE ICE. MAcKinnon made a series of power moves, dangles, and neck snapping direction-changes to run Kris Letang all over the Pittsburg zone. First MacKinnon carried the puck all over the left side halfboards, then dished it for O'Reilly in front who had his shot stopped. MacKinnn retrieved the puck and re-established the cycle for Zach Redmond, who beat Fleury's glove with a shot, but couldn't beat the goal post. Then MacKinnon went into top gear again and bodied up in the crease while his team cycled the puck. Landeskog got the puck up high to Jan Hejda, who skated in down the left boards and made an exquisite pass at Nathan MacKinnon's stick in the crease. The puck bounced off of MacKinnon's skate while he battled the Pittsburgh defender, and slid past Fleury to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead.
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Both teams rolled lines, and the Avalanche maintained a solid edge over the Penguins no matter which line touched the ice, but that edge stretched out each time the MacKinnon, O'Reilly, Landeskog line touched the ice. On their next opportunity Landeskog had an impressive half-slap on the left side that almost beat Fleury short side. Fleury turned the puck away with his blocker.
The Penguins had one more quality chance with 2:30 left in the period when Blake Comeau found a rebound in front of Varlamov, but Varlamov kept the wickets shut. Other than that, the last 5 minutes of this period were really just the Nathan MacKinnon show. What a show it was.
Fans of broken-stick-craft everywhere would enjoy the Avalanche's first shift of the third period, as Gabe Landeskog snapped his stick early on the play in the defensive zone, skated directly to the bench to get another stick, and came back into the zone to become part of the play that cleared the puck. Unfortunately the Avalanche would see a lot more of their own zone over the next few minutes. The 4th line had a particularly tough time clearing the puck, first Joey Hishon turned the puck over with a weak clear up the boards, then when the Avs got the puck back, Cliche passed the puck to a Pittsburgh defenseman's skate at the point. Finally Cody McLeod broke the puck out of the zone and got the Avs a line change.
The Matt Duchene line came out onto the ice, and after a relatively quiet 2nd period from the Avs 2nd line, they drew a penalty with some very strong play along the end-boards. Caron in particular showed well on that sequence, as he used his size well to fight for the puck and give his linemates space. Duchene eventually drew an interference penalty from Derrick Pouliot as he and Caron battled the Pittsburgh defense for a puck on the half boards. The Avalanche power play did a good job of moving the puck and setting up a big point shot, but they shot themselves in the foot by missing the net. The Avalanche killed over a minute of their own power play by shooting the puck high and wide on the far side from the left point. Both times the puck sailed past the Pittsburgh net, rimmed around the glass, and out of the Avs' zone.
The Avalanche escaped 50 minutes of hockey without seeing too much from the Penguins' super stars, but it wouldn't last. Just after the ten minute mark there was some Malkin on Malkin... errrr Mitchell, violence on the boards as Malkin stole the puck from John Mitchell then danced through the offensive zone, deked through Nate Guenin and Nick Holden, and beat Semyon Varlamov to bring the Penguins within one. Guenin and Holden were... less than "mobile" in their defense of the play. 2-1 Avs
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All hell broke loos at this point in the game. Evgeni Malkin absolutely took over the game in the offensive zone and for a second time turnstiled Nick Holden before firing a great shot on net. Varlamov made the save on the huge deke by Malkin to preserve the Avalanche lead. The Penguins continued to press and press against the Avs defense and peppered the Avs net with shots, but for a time the Avalanche were able to weather the storm. Jarome Iginla was the first to get the puck up ice, but took a huge hit from Paul Martin for his trouble. As the Penguins went the other way, Ryan O`Reilly disrupted the Pittsburgh breakout and sprung Gabriel Landeskog for a 1-on-1 rush against Derrick Pouliot. Landeskog undressed Pouliot with a great deke, walked in, and beat Fleury to extend the Avs' lead to two. In the words of the MHH twitter account...
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Jock cleanup, aisle 51. Derrick Pouliot please retrieve your gear at your nearest convenience.</p>— MHH (@MileHighHockey) <a href="https://twitter.com/MileHighHockey/status/573353788016222208">March 5, 2015</a></blockquote>
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The Avalanche kept on pushing after the Landeskog goal, and scored their 4th goal of the night when Dennis Everberg made a great individual effort on the right wing to drive the net from the side and pull the puck back in to the center. Everberg slowed up, was pushed by a Pittsburgh defender and still BARELY touched Fleury, but when John Mitchell buried the Everberg rebound, the referees waived it off for goalie interference. A very, very bad call.
Pittsburgh pulled Fleury with just over 2:00 left on the clock, and the Avalanche had their best chance at an empty netter right away, when Alex Tanguay lobbed the puck from the defensive zone and missed the empty net by a few inches. After that the Avalanche had several deep clears to kill the final 1:44 seconds of the game, but they never had another quality look at the empty net. Final score 3-1.
Your tldr game summary as follows:
Marc Moser's Three Stars:
1. Gabe Landeskog - 3 points
2. Nathan MacKinnon - Game winner
3. Ryan O'Reilly - 1 assist and beastmode penalty killing
MHH Three Stars:
Those same guys + Alex Tanguay. He had a little extra jump tonight, but mostly 1000 games is an awesome achievement for this totally awesome dude.
What about those new comers?
Jordan Caron - After a good first shift Caron disappeared on the wing of Matt Duchene as the game continued. He had another strong shift in the third period along the endboards, but he wasn't particularly noticeable.
Joey Hishon - Was the best player on his line all night. Hishon's work in the neutral zone was particularly good early on. He had a few shots, a few hits, and a great defensive takeaway, but also a bad weak clear that resulted in a turnover in his own zone in the third period.
Next Up: The Avalanche visit the Blue Jackets on Friday night to start another back-to-back series with travel.