With two teams in strikingly similar, situations something had to give. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche squared off Tuesday night as teams trending in the wrong direction and in the end the woes of the Avs continued as they would drop a tough one 6-3.
Colorado played with much more intensity and desire but a third period coaches challenge that was denied proved to be the turning point - the Avalanche concluded their five game homestand with a single win while Columbus finally ended their season long five game losing streak.
The Avalanche were hoping to salvage at least some points in this homestand before heading out on a difficult three game road trip. But despite a number of adjustments, the Avs saw the game end in a far too familiar way.
Both the Blue Jackets and the Avalanche are teams in the middle of the playoff hunt, however both are also coming out of a month of January that saw them struggle to find any consistency. Both teams are also looking ahead to a month of uncertainty with the rumor mill in full swing leading into the trade deadline. Questions about what Columbus will do with their star player Artemi Panarin being the biggest.
The Avalanche came out of their break on Saturday against Vancouver and promptly gave their most lackluster performance of the year. Tonight they seemed anxious to get on the ice and prove to themselves and their fans that they could get things going in the right direction - and for a while it looked like they were getting back to the form that made them successful earlier in the season.
It’s starting to become routine, but the phrase ‘Avalanche give up the first goal’ has pretty much been the norm this season in Colorado. Tonight was no different as 53 seconds in Oliver Bjorkstrand found the net and before you can blink the Avs found themselves behind 1-0. The Avs might have been in the midst of a line change, but their defense let Bjorkstrand skate behind the net from one side to the other and the winger was able to beat a slow Philipp Grubauer to the post with a wraparound for the games first score.
The Avs first real chance came about half way through the period when Gabriel Landeskog had an open look at Sergi Bobrovsky. His snap shot got behind Bobrovsky but Columbus was in good defensive position to quickly knock it away. The Avs were able to keep it in the zone however and Nikita Zadorov had an open slap shot get kicked aside by Bob.
The Avs kept the pressure up and their efforts would be rewarded as a flurry of chances finally got through with an Erik Johnson blast to tie it at one. Johnson might have benefited from a stick-less Bobrovsky but the Avs will take them anyway they can get them right now.
It wouldn’t take long before Columbus regained the lead when Scott Harrington’s shot from the side would redirect off the skate of Pierre-Luc Dubois and into the net past Grubauer. The netminder appeared injured on the play as he collided with Dubois leading to a goaltender interference review. The replay would show no interference and Grubauer would appear to be fine, allowing him to continue in the game.
With just under five minutes remaining the Avs got their first chance at the power play when Alex Kerfoot drew a tripping penalty on Seth Jones.
Columbus would kill the power play but the Avalanche would tie the game shortly after when Nathan MacKinnon flew into the zone, put on the breaks and dropped the puck to a trailing Nikita Zadorov who ripped a slap shot that found it’s way past Bobrovsky and pulling the Avalanche even at 2-2.
The period would end with Colorado continuing to pressure Columbus as Colin Wilson would get a shot on net as would Landeskog and the Avs finished the period much stronger than the way they started it.
The Avalanche came out guns blazing in the second and carried over the pressure they showed at the end of the first. Everywhere you looked there was a burgundy and blue jersey and the Avs were maintaining possession in the Columbus zone for stretches at a time.
The Avs would draw their second penalty of the game, this time on Dubois for slashing but despite more solid chances the Avs could not find the extra skater goal and came out of the powerplay with not even a shot on goal.
Still, the Avs would continue to force the issue and Nathan MacKinnon’s speed and skill were on full display as he found himself flying up center ice with a single defender in front on him. MacKinnon tried to slide the puck between the defender legs which seemed to make its way through and MacKinnon literally jumped to get past Seth Jones. It was incredibly close to making a highlight reel tip in goal but Bobrovsky was able to kick it aside.
The action really started to pick up on both side of the ice with the two teams getting opportunities but improved goaltending from both netminders prevented any scores. Avs fans gave Grubauer a louder than normal applause when he was able to save a breakaway attempt by Dubois. The Avs collected the rebound and turned up ice which concluded with a chance by Mikko Rantanan but Bobrovsky came up with a nice save of his own.
The Avs would find pay dirt and their first lead of the game after gaining a 3 on 2 rush that saw Gabriel Bourque drop the puck to a trailing Samuel Girard who waited for the right time to fire a wrist shot that grazed the inside of the right post and past Bobrovsky for a 3-2 lead.
Colorado just would not let up on their pressure and had a golden opportunity to extend the lead when a shot from the side by Carl Soderberg landed right behind Bobrovsky and sat in the crease just waiting to be punched in. The goal was prevented by a brilliant defensive play by Jones - holding up the stick of Matt Nieto not enabling him to get his blade on the ice prevented another chance.
Moments later Tyson Barrie carried the puck in the Columbus zone to an almost point blank shot which Bob saved, Artemi Panarin collected and turned and fired a perfect pass to Cam Atkinson on a breakaway which he slid past Grubauer to tie the game at 3
This ended a hard fought, well played period by both teams and goaltenders. The Avs were flying, passes were crisp and accurate and the fact Colorado only had three goals to show for their efforts was the only disappointing aspect.
Thirty seconds into the third, Ian Cole checked Jones into the boards and was sent to the box as Colorado went a man down for the first time in the game. Grubauer came up with some critical saves to shut down the Blue Jackets in their man advantage and a horrendous way to start the period was spared with no damage done.
The Avalanche would get their own opportunity at a power play after an interference penalty but the Blue Jackets kill continued it dominance and the Avs came away with nothing.
After some back and forth the Blue Jackets would regain the lead when Josh Anderson slapped at a rebound that came off Grubauer. The goal would be brought into question as Coach Jared Bednar would challenge not the goal, but that the Blue Jackets were offside on the play with Anderson being the player in question. Replays appeared to show Anderson was very possibly offsides but a conclusive view was not available and the refs upheld the call. The goal stood giving Columbus at 4-3 lead as well as a power play due to the lost challenge.
The Blue Jackets would take advantage of that power play and score again on a Alexander Wennberg wrist shot that Grubauer had no chance at stopping.
Boone Jenner would commit a high sticking penalty and give Colorado their fourth chance at a power play, one they needed to have but would come up empty again. Columbus would go into defensive mode and the Avs would eventually pull Grubauer only to give up an empty net goal that would seal it for Columbus
This is a difficult one to swallow. The game being was tightly played over the course of two and a half periods and a questionable in favor of the Blue Jackets would make the difference.
Pick your poison as to what you think the achilles heel of the Avalanche is this season but somewhere on that list is early opponent scoring. That demon showed its ugly head again today and seconds in the Avs were already playing from behind. Grubauer did have some impressive moments tonight and the second period was easily his best but he still did not put together a full 60 minute performance. He has to be better and the goaltending is something the Avalanche will have to deal with for the remainder of the season unless some deals are made.
You don’t want to boil the game down to one play or call in particular but the repercussions of the coaches challenge that was not overturned was the tipping point. Columbus had their opportunity and they seized it so give them credit.
It’s soul searching time for Colorado and if things do not turn around immediately we will all be looking forward to the draft. The fans at the Pepsi Center seem to have reached their breaking point as the boo birds were circling the arena as the clock ticked down to zero.