In this three game eastern swing, the Colorado Avalanche played their best all-around game today at First Niagra Center against the Buffalo Sabres. The Avs outshot the Sabres, maintained consistent offensive pressure, and were able to generate plenty of scoring chances. The prior two contests were the exact opposite, and the Avalanche won those two, and lost this one. Go figure. Actually, no, don't go figure, because we're going to figure this out together later in this recap and where exactly the figure-ment falls.
Credit to Buffalo for playing a good enough game to get the win. It's a young team finding their way, that will probably be really good in like three years. For now though, this game is one that lies more under the case of Colorado losing a game than Buffalo winning a game.
1st Period: Well, this was just a bunch of fun. Jack Eichel got Buffalo on the board early with a nice play from his own blue line into the Avs' zone. Shot went right between Tyson Barrie and then right between Semyon Varlamov. This was just a great play by Eichel; one that shows how much potential this guy has. I wasn't mad about that one. I figured, "OK, a really good young player just made a really good play. There's 57 minutes to play. Just a minor setback, no biggie."
Oh how wrong I was. Evander Kane took a long shot that Varlamov usually wouldn't have any problems with. This one did though. It went by him into the cage, and Semyon was subsequently pulled as it was clear as day he was exhausted after having given everything against Ottawa on Thursday, everything and then some against Detroit on Friday. More about that below.
Calvin Pickard came in for relief, and right after Colorado had several good chances at cutting the Sabres' lead in half for a good three to four minutes, once the Sabres got the puck back into the Avs' zone, they scored. Another talented Sabres rookie, Sam Reinhart scored with old friend Ryan O'Reilly getting an assist. A fitting way to cap off the period from hell.
2nd Period: The second period was better than the first was, in part because it could not get any worse. There was a vast improvement in sustaining offensive pressure that was not found in the Ottawa and Detroit games. Erik Johnson got the Avalanche a goal setup by a beautiful pass from Mikahil Grigorenko. Wait, I feel like I've written that before. Oh, I know why! Because I did! Grigs had a beautiful setup to Matt Duchene on Friday at the Joe, and did the game today with EJ.
If not for Robin Lehner bellyflopping on like five Colorado shots from just in front of the goal crease, this game conceivably could have been tied when the green horn was lit to signify the end of this phrase of hockey.
3rd Period/Rant #1: Continuing off the momentum gained in the 2nd, the Avalanche applied consistent pressure to the Sabres and forced Robin Lehner work to keep the game a stable lead for Buffalo. Opportunity arose with eight minutes left in the game when Buffalo was called for a double minor on high sticking, giving the Avs four minutes of five on four play. Halfway into that penalty, however, Buffalo was called for another high stick, allotting the Avalanche two minutes to play with two more gentlemen. The result? One shot on goal, no goals. Buffalo got an empty netter from Marcus Foligno to put this game away for the Sabres.
The Avalanche's lack of five on three success reached a boiling point for me this afternoon. This team, through fifty-nine games now, has not scored a single goal when they have a two minute advantage. I can't put into words how unacceptable it is for a professional hockey team to have not managed that. It is so incredibly frustrating watch this team pass its way around three skaters and not take any more than three shots on a goaltender who will have eight guys in front of him, and only three wearing the same sweater he does. It just can't happen. I don't know what Roy and his assistants are thinking up, but it is so blatantly obvious not working and this cannot continue or else I will begin breaking things. The scary thing is that's not even what I'm most mad at Patrick about! That's why I have a second rant to go on about.
Rant #2: No, I'm not mad about the fact I'm single on Valentine's Day. I'm glad I can do whatever I want and not treat someone to an expensive dinner at a restaurant I don't even like. But the Avalanche, and specifically Patrick Roy, found a way to make me angry on this day anyways, like most single people are. After the game against the winged wheel on Friday, I sat back and thought to myself how great Varlamov had played the last couple of nights given the ineptitude of the Avalanche skaters, and thought the five days of rest he would get before Wednesday's game against Montreal wouldn't even be enough rest. I was frankly shocked to see he would get the start this afternoon against Buffalo given all he'd faced the last couple games.
This is open for interpretation, but I do not understand for the life of me what Roy was thinking with starting Varlamov today. I am as aware as anyone that for the Avs to make a run in the playoffs, Varlamov needs to be sharp and playing at an A+ level for Colorado to have a chance at making some postseason noise. But why would you start him for his third game in the span of about sixty-five hours against a last place team that you would assume Pickard would be able to take. I don't know if Pickard would have allowed those two early goals or not, but it's undeniable that sequence proved how incredulous it was for Varlamov to be starting this game and effectively ruining the Avalanche's chance at two points less than five minutes after the first face-off.
This is the latest example of Roy doing something as head coach that's head scratching, and pays off in a way beneficial to the team that's playing the Avalanche. Don't get me wrong, I love Patrick and for the most part, his tenure as Colorado's head coach to this point has been successful. It's stuff like this though that makes life with him leading this club exasperating at times. This won't be the last exasperating moment with him, and for the time being I want him to be the one leading the Colorado Avalanche to their eventual third Stanley Cup. Until that time comes though, this move today is one of the worst he's made, and has the possibility to be one the Avalanche highly regret come mid-April should they miss the playoffs for the second straight year.