Gabriel Landeskog scored two goals and an assist, and Jeremy Smith made 34 saves for his first NHL victory in goal as the Avalanche beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 at the Pepsi Center, on a night where defenseman Erik Johnson made his return to the lineup for the first time in nearly three months.
Throwing their drink in the face of tradition, the Avalanche wasted no time getting on the scoreboard tonight. Gabriel Landeskog, being the one-man forecheck machine he is, made a great play to chase down the down behind Buffalo’s goal line and kicked the puck back out front to Nathan MacKinnon. He then dished it to Mark Barberio at the blue line, who fired a shot toward the net through traffic and in. Colorado’s recent waiver wire claim was initially credited with his second goal in an Avalanche uniform, but replays discovered Landeskog had jumped back into the play and tipped the puck in for his twelfth of the year.
Later in the period Justin Bailey and Barberio would draw the ire of the referees after a scrap and receive matching cross-checking penalties. The resulting four-on-four led to a couple of good opportunities for both team before Matt Nieto skated the puck up the left boards, pulled up and found a trailing Mikhail Grigorenko streaking toward the net. He wasn’t able to get off a shot on the first pass, but he circled around, looked for an open target, found none and then made a great play to skate toward the slot and fire off a shot past goalie Robin Lehner. The goal was Grigorenko’s seventh of the year—a new career high.
Less than two minutes later, Matt Duchene would pin Buffalo in their own end, getting a shot off, collecting the rebound and scooting the puck behind the net for line mate Mikko Rantanen, who found open space behind the net and passed out front to a pinching Tyson Barrie for an emphatic one-timer to give his team a three-goal lead. It was Barrie’s five goal of the season.
Buffalo would strike back, however, before the first period was through, getting a man-advantage opportunity after a Mikko Rantanen elbowing penalty. After winning the faceoff, the Sabres swung the puck around to the point and ripped a slap shot toward the net. Goalie Jeremy Smith, making an unscheduled start for Calvin Pickard, made the initial save, but coughed up the rebound in the vicinity of Sam Reinhart, who quickly buried the puck to get his team on the board.
The Sabres would also register the first tally of the second period. Justin Bailey moved the puck behind the Avalanche net, closely followed by Francois Beauchemin; but when Bailey cut back toward the net and fired a back hand shot, the Avalanche veteran was nowhere to be found, left in the dust. The initial shot would fail to find the net (again), but Marcus Foligno would find the rebound and nudge it home for his tenth on the year, drawing the game to 3-2.
Colorado would regain its cushion later in the period when Nathan MacKinnon caught the puck in his own zone and began moving up ice like only he can. He passed to Gabriel Landeskog, who fired on net, with MacKinnon redirecting the puck. The shot wouldn’t go in, but Blake Comeau was waiting on the doorstep to clean up the rebound and make it 4-2. But the two-goal lead wouldn't last. But Buffalo struck right back, with a snipe from Evan Rodrigues less than two minutes later. It was his first goal of the season.
The third period would be relatively quiet after all the scoring the first two frames. Colorado would hold Buffalo scoreless, and only get back on the board themselves late in the game when the Sabres had pulled their goalie. Landeskog stole the puck in his own zone and then flipped the afterburners to get around Buffalo’s lone defender and deposit the puck in the goal to seal the game 5-3.
The home victory raised the Avalanche’s record to 17-40-3, which is still last in the NHL, but WAY better than 16-41-3—trust me.