Sometimes the absence of your best players can inspire the rest of the team to play its best hockey. This was surely the case tonight in a solid, full 60-minute, 3-2 Colorado Avalanche victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Missing top goal scorers Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene to injury does -- and will continue to -- sting, but if the team's depth pieces continue to perform like they did tonight, the Avs should certainly remain in contention with the Minnesota Wild for the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
The 1st Period, despite being scoreless, was anything but dull. The Avalanche hurled 21 even-strength shots toward the net and got 12 of them on net. The Oilers opted for a more "quality over quantity" approach, getting only 4 shots on net until the last couple of minutes, but missed some golden opportunities into wide-open nets.
But the game wouldn't remain scoreless for long in the second. After a crushing Gabriel Landeskog hit on Griffin Reinhart in the Oilers' zone, Shawn Matthias wrestled the puck away along the boards and dished to center Carl Soderberg just inside the circle. He hesitated for a brief moment and then fed Landeskog cutting through the slot for the score (Video). It was the captain's 18th goal on the season and first since returning from his recent three-game suspension. To say the team missed this kind of play in his absence would be a considerable understatement.
Colorado added another score following a Zach Kassian roughing penalty on Cody McLeod. The Avs would spend the entirety of the ensuing power play in the Edmonton zone and rip off a number of good shots. Finally, Tyson Barrie drove one home on a shot from the point just as the 2:00 expired (Video). The goal was Barrie's 13th on the season, tying a career high set in 2013-14.
The Oilers would get on the scoreboard 2:53 into the 3rd Period. Zach Kassian fired a shot from the left circle and Calvin Pickard coughed up the rebound right to Mark Letestu, who immediately fed former Avalanche Matt Hendricks across the slot for the draw Edmonton to within one (Video).
A Connor McDavid hi-sticking penalty on John Mitchell would give the Avs a second shot at a power play, and the first unit was equally effective keeping the puck in the Edmonton zone putting a number of pucks on net. Finally, Erik Johnson caught the puck and fired a pass into the slot to Blake Comeau who tipped the puck into the net past Laurent Brossoit to put the Avs ahead 3-1.
Just like the previous game, the Oilers would score a late goal after pulling their goalie for an extra attacker. After failed Shawn Matthias clearing attempt, Connor McDavid collected the puck and blasted a slap shot from the point the tipped off of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' stick and past Pickard to make the game 3-2 with just 6.9 seconds remaining in the game (Video). Edmonton would ice the puck after the subsequent faceoff and the Avs would run out the clock in the Oilers' end to seal the victory.
The win put Colorado back ahead of Minnesota who won earlier in the night against the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout. The Avs will return to Denver for a two-game homestand with just nine games remaining in the season. They will take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
- Calvin Pickard - What's the best way to navigate a stretch of games without your two top scorers? Have two goalies playing as well between the pipes and Pickard and Varlamov right now. This is a problem Patrick Roy definitely doesn't mind having. The Avs' backup stopped 26-of-28 shots tonight and made big saves when he needed to.
- Erik Johnson - The Avs' best defenseman has deservedly shown up pretty frequently in this column. He was excellent again tonight on both ends of the ice, shutting down his end on defense and setting up Colorado's third goal on a power play.
- Tyson Barrie - The power play was a force tonight and Barrie was a major reason. He was all over the ice and drilled home a whale of a slapshot for the Avs' second goal on the night. Without Duchene and MacKinnon, it will be up to Barrie to help drive offensive possessions. He did his part tonight.
- Andrew Bodnarchuk - There was nothing particularly terrible about his play. What's troublesome is that Patrick Roy doesn't trust him enough to play more than the 5:45 he played tonight. Yeah, the defensive Top-4 are going to get a lot of minutes these next nine games, but it would be nice if the third pairing would allow Francois Beauchemin to not lead the team again in minutes.
- The Dudes In Striped Shirts - I hate complaining about officials here, but tonight warrants it. Dumb penalty calls, dumb lack of penalty calls, and faceoffs were an awkward mess all evening. Cody McLeod's roughing penalty in the 2nd was especially egregious. How does a light shove off the puck near the boards that barely moved the guy constitute a roughing penalty. The Avs' penalty kill rendered it moot, but Cody has to be laughing about the softest penalty he's earned in his life.