Francois Beauchemin scored with 32 seconds left to give the Avalanche a 2-1 victory, their 5th win in the past six home games. On a night when much of the attention was on the return of Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado's young talent shone brightly and got major contributions from its most tenured veterans.
If you're a fan of sloppy neutral zone passing and the general avoidance of entering the zone with possession, this 1st Period was for you. Both teams struggled for most of the period to maintain control and take meaningful shots. Buffalo wouldn't even get their first puck on net until more than five minutes into the game. But they would climb back into the game later in the period, getting the most dangerous chance in the opening frame after a Zach Redmond turnover. Marcus Foligno took the puck and headed up ice for what seemed like a clean breakaway opportunity, but Chris Bigras hustled back and forced a more difficult shot. He was called for slashing, but saved a grade-A scoring chance. The Avalanche would kill the penalty and make it into the locker room having neither scored nor allowed a goal.
The 2nd Period was characteristic of many Avalanche 2nd Periods this season. Too often, Colorado doesn't adjust well to the competition and get outshot by a wild margin. This was tonight's game to a "T." The Sabres lined up on the blue line and dared the Avs to make crisp passes and enter the zone with the puck; instead, they repeatedly dumped the puck in and failed to get it out of the corners with control. They seemed stuck in a quagmire for painfully long stretches and didn't get much going -- and then at 16:38 Buffalo broke the scoring impasse. While cycling the puck, O'Reilly caught the puck at the point and passed to Jack Eichel cutting to the high slot. The puck bounced off his stick but landed right by Evander Kane, who was setting a screen. He then ripped a quick wrister to the back of the net, catching goalie Semyon Varlamov by surprise, and giving the Sabres the first lead of the game (Video).
But Colorado came out kicking in the 3rd. What was previously a shot deficit quickly turned into surplus, with the Avs putting 19 5v5 shots at the net (15 reaching goalie Robin Lehner) to Buffalo's paltry four. This barrage of shots led to Alex Tanguay's game-tying goal at 10:27 (Video). The backhand came not a moment too soon and seemed to give Colorado the boost it needed to finish out the game. Continued pressure would also lead to Beauchemin ripping the game-winning slap shot from the right high-circle with just 33 seconds to go (Video). Buffalo would pull their goalie for one last feeble attempt, but got off no threatening shots before the clock ran out. Avalanche won 2-1.
- Alex Tanguay - The 36-year old vet has had plenty of struggles this year, but he really stepped up on a night his team needed him. Had the crucial game-tying goal and was a team-leading Plus-9 CF 5v5.
- Zadorov/Grigorenko - With all the attention on O'Reilly tonight, the players Colorado got in return quietly had a really great night. Zadorov played on the top defensive pairing and was Plus-7 CF 5v5. Grigorenko centered the 4th line and was Plus-4.
- Francois Beauchemin - Game-winning goal and Plus-8 CF 5v5; but perhaps more importantly, he has Zadorov playing really great hockey right now. His leadership on this young team really hasn't been recognized enough.
- Semyon Varlamov - Another one-goal start with a .964 Save Percentage. The game's easier when your defense is functioning, isn't it?
- Ryan O'Reilly - The Buffalo center forced his way out of Colorado for a 7.5m dollar a year extension. Tonight he was Minus-7 in 21:54, though he did have a secondary assist on the Kane goal.
- Zach Redmond - A passable night for the most part, but his 1st Period turnover was an example of the poor decision making we've seen become a pattern. When Erik Johnson gets healthy this week, I'd love to see him work slowly back on this pairing and help the progression of rookie Chris Bigras. That's three pretty good defensive pairings for the first time in...how long?