Another day, another loss. The Colorado Avalanche kept up with the St. Louis Blues for two periods on Saturday afternoon in Denver, but it was a series of third-period mistakes on the Avs’ side that was ultimately their undoing in a 3-0 loss to Jake Allen, Ryan O’Reilly, and co.
Mikko Rantanen had one of the worst games I’ve seen from him in a while. Rantanen was an even possession player, but was the reason for the first goal against (-2 on the night), took a frustration penalty, and had only one shot on goal. He didn’t look like himself all night and it was a big reason why the team didn’t get a single goal in the game. Right now, there is only one line going for this team, and it’s the third line. I know this team has done well being a one-line team, but the Soderberg line can only do so much. The top guys need to be better.
Jake Allen, on the other hand, had one of the best games I’ve seen from him in a while. He made half a dozen amazing saves, most of which came in the third period when his team was trying to hold the lead. Jordan Binnington’s backup made 32 saves for the shutout and the win.
The tone of the game was set early when A.J. Greer and Vince Dunn got into stick-whacking match in the Blues’ zone. Robert Bortuzzo came over after the play was whistled dead and took both himself and Greer to the penalty box for two minutes each.
Then around the 10-minute mark of the first, Ivan Barbashev threw a clearing attempt right up the middle of the ice — a play every coach hates — right to Nikita Zadorov at the top of the left faceoff circle. Zadorov would step up and get a great chance on Jake Allen’s net, sparking a great shift from him and the third line.
The Avalanche would carry that momentum onward to a few great chances later in the period, including a Mikko Rantanen breakaway sparked from a great stick check by captain Gabriel Landeskog. Rantanen has been incredibly snake-bitten during this losing skid, he simply hasn’t had that same magic we saw in the first half of the season.
Near the end of the period, Brayden Schenn got on the inside of Patrik Nemeth, forcing the depth defenseman to reach around his opponent to get a hold of the stick. While he did so, it looked like Nemeth was unleashing a two-handed slash to the far side of Schenn, through on a second look, he was just reaching around for a stick-lift. The referee saw what he thought was a slash and called him for two minutes.
On the PK, Matt Calvert and Carl Soderberg did yeomans work at the top of the zone, preventing the Blues from taking any big point shots, including diving all over the ice, losing stick and gloves in the process. Those two have been impressively amazing middle-six players for the Avalanche this season. They work they do on a regular basis doesn’t go unrecognized.
Despite the lack of goals, it was a very entertaining period. The Avalanche came out strong to start, but then got completely walked over during the middle portion of the period, especially during the 4-on-4 segment when Bortuzzo and Greer were in the box. By the end, the Avs showed good flashes and brough the shot differential back to something a little more respectable, but the Blues were clearly controlling the play.
At 5v5, the Avs were down in shot attempts (11-22), but only behind in shots by two (7-9). Most of this came as a result of the Avalanche blocking eight shots in the first period. They did a good job of getting in the lanes and forcing the Blues to take less than optimal shots, but on the whole, they needed to be better at controlling possession of the puck.
This period was controlled mostly by special teams. The Avalanche had two power plays to the Blues’ one in the second, and they got three big chances from Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon with Rantanen in the box for his slashing battle with Bortuzzo. Unfortunately, none of those shots went in, but on the whole, it was a good period that built momentum. Once again, no goals.
The Avs looked a lot better in this period and it showed on the shot clock. At 5v5, they had more attempts (20-14), fewer shots (8-11), but more scoring chances (11-7). However, on the aggregate, the Blues were still ahead on shots and attempts. Their counter-attack was very good and it caught the Avs on their heels after a good run of positive shifts too many times.
Semyon Varlamov was not like his recent self in that he was doing a great job of keeping his team in the game, making some clutch saves at various points in the period.
Four minutes into the third period, the Blues opened the scoring. It was first line vs. first line, and Rantanen got caught drifting too far over to his wrong wing, meaning he left Vladimir Tarasenko extremely wide open. The Russian winger is usually automatic from where he was shooting and he was just that. Once again, Ryan O’Reilly set up the goal with a great centering pass from the corner with pressure on him.
A few minutes later, the Avalanche were putting the pressure on heavily, and during a scramble in front of the net with Allen down and out, Soderberg got a piece of the puck but shot it just wide while falling to the ice.
Then the play went the other way, and Zach Sanford scored his seventh goal of the season off of a great tip through the legs of Varlamov from a pass from Oskar Sundqvist.
The Avs kept pushing, and they got a handful of great chances, chief among them coming on the penalty kill and J.T. Compher standing all alone in the actual heart of the slot, but his shot was stopped by Allen.
Later, Rantanen got away for a partial break down the wing. For some reason, Rantanen tried to take a slap shot, but Allen was well out of his crease and barely had to move to deflect the shot wide. I would’ve liked to see him drive to the net there, to be honest.
Calvert and his line came back again with another odd-man rush. Calvert was speeding up the wing and sent Matt Nieto a spin-o-rama pass to the other side of the net. Nieto quickly centered the puck to a driving Soderberg, but he was once again parried away by Jake Allen.
The Avs tried their best to bring the game back to within one, but it wasn’t enough. Jaden Schwartz scored the empty-net goal, sealing the loss.
The next game for the Avalanche is Monday night at home against the Vegas Golden Knights. Join us for that contest, will ya?