Their nearest playoff competitors had all taken advantage of Colorado’s loss to the San Jose Sharks on Friday; the Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars all won on Saturday night in convincing fashion, leaving the Avalanche in what some might call a “must win” position. That left the Avalanche skating out at the Honda Center on a sunny California afternoon looking up at all 3 teams in the wild card race.
After a 2-1 defeat, though, they ultimately left Anaheim winless on their California road trip, two crucial points out of the final wild card spot in the West.
The game could never really find much flow on either side — but when it did, the bounces generally went Anaheim’s way. The Avalanche looked tired and out of sync, and it showed from the second the puck dropped.
The start of the game set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, with the Ducks controlling play from the get-go.
Before the Avalanche could find any sense of identity in the game, Carl Soderberg was called for a penalty. And before the Ducks could even attempt to pull their goalie for the delayed call, Jakob Silfverberg buried a snipe straight over Philipp Grubauer’s shoulder.
1 - 0
The Ducks carried that momentum through the first ten minutes, holding a 7-0 lead in shots at one point. The Avalanche did begin to push through the last ten minutes after the teams traded power plays — both teams did well on the kill — but ultimately, the Avalanche failed to capitalize on their own man advantage despite not allowing a single shot on their own kill. Colorado had a few chances of their own on the PP, with a Mikko Rantanen redirect hitting the post and John Gibson snagging a Nathan MacKinnon wrist shot (rather than his usually preferred one-timer) from the faceoff circle, but nothing found the back of the net.
The top line, reunited on and off outside of the power-play throughout the game, turned in a couple good shifts together in the first — particularly when their quality puck movement found Erik Johnson in perfect position to slam one home on a cross ice pass. Gibson robbed him with the glove, though, and Nathan MacKinnon’s near-absence for the flu showed with some slightly below-average play.
The complete lack of rhythm for either team continued through the second period, as the Avalanche started the period on the power-play but couldn’t find any semblance of success on it. That lack of rhythm continued, as for five minutes it seemed the two teams could do nothing but exchange turnovers and giveaways.
The Ducks finally found themselves able to set up in the Avalanche zone without turning the puck over. They moved the puck well, and Grubauer saw another shot beat him; fortunately, it could not beat the post. Gabriel Landeskog then found himself in a similar position on the other end, ringing a shot off both the post and Gibson’s goalie mask. As Gibson tried to fix his helmet, he found Landeskog nearly putting his own rebound past him on a wraparound try. Once again Gibson made a tough save look incredibly easy.
Almost immediately following Landeskog’s great effort, the other Gabriel on the team sent momentum tumbling in the other direction. Gabriel Bourque was boxed for two minutes on a tripping call, and the Ducks would find themselves on the power-play for the second time after the Avalanche shut down their first attempt on the man advantage.
It wasn’t to be this time, as the Ducks looked great from the start of the power-play. Cam Fowler finished on a shot from the point that first looked to be a redirected goal for Silfverberg’s second. However upon closer inspection, it had gone off Matt Calvert’s leg.
After the Duck’s second, the game returned to its lackluster, lukewarm pace. The most exciting thing to happen for the rest of the period was a hit from Ian Cole that got him tossed from this game, and will almost certainly result in the league’s player safety department calling him to let him know he’ll be sitting a few more as well. He went knee to knee on Devin Shore in a hit that every player in the league knows not to make.
The Avalanche did well to kill off Cole’s five minute major, getting help from a double minor on Corey Perry after a scrum with Patrik Nemeth. Anaheim did well on their first power-play of the period, but looked uninspired on their second. Neither team had much momentum to carry to the next period, and with John Gibson looking like the best player on the ice by a mile, it would have taken a miracle for the Avalanche to come back.
The Avalanche would not get that miracle, although their third period was (as is so often the case) their best period. The game remained a dispassionate affair, with the Ducks holding most of the opening chances. The top line for the Avalanche did turn in a quality shift however, with Rantanen in particular looking mightily impressive. He fought hard for the puck in the Ducks zone and ended up drawing a penalty.
Ten seconds into the power-play, Soderberg took a puck that had squirted awkwardly out of the face-off and fired it cross-ice to a wide open Derick Brassard — who made no mistake when firing home his second goal in an Avalanche jersey.
For most teams, a goal like Brassard’s — early in the third on a well worked goal to cut the lead to one — would be a huge swing in momentum. However, the Avs would find their backs immediately against the wall, as Adam Henrique took the following faceoff and turned it into a breakaway. Henrique couldn’t convert, but the Ducks would keep the puck in their zone for an extended period of time and put several more good chances on Grubauer.
The Avalanche did find a few chances by way of a strong shift by the top line, and for the first time all night they found themselves leading in shots on net. Gibson stood strong and as the top line came off, Daniel Sprong found the Ducks second breakaway chance. Samuel Girard did incredibly well to chase him down and force the puck off his stick at the very last moment.
As the period wound down and the Avalanche got more desperate, the Ducks let it be known that the ghost of Patrick Roy’s coaching habits would be exorcised from the Avs. Roy and Bruce Boudreau are both gone, but the Ducks may have needed reinforced glass had they shown up tonight. The Ducks showcased a masterclass in dismantling the old tactic of pulling the goalie as early as possible (something Jared Bednar has picked up - to a degree - from his predecessor).
With Grubauer not skating off until roughly forty-five seconds remained, and the Avalanche not gaining control of the zone until the clock hit thirty seconds, there was never much of a chance to score with the extra man. Still, the Avs made it interesting by winning a face-off with 6 ticks left. MacKinnon forced a good save out of a Gibson, but the rebound didn’t leave much of a chance for anyone to finish. The game ended as it did Friday; another mad scramble for a shot that had no chance as the clock struck zero.
The Avalanche needed this win. Dallas, Arizona and Minnesota are all playing their best hockey just as the Avs begin to slip. The Avalanche have to start winning games with much more regularity to have any hope of a playoff push. Even then they will still need some help, as this loss pushes them two points out of the last wild card, with every team above them but Minnesota owning a game in hand.
The Avalanche are back at home on Tuesday to take on the struggling Red Wings. Against a team sitting second to last in the league, the Avalanche must take two points. Although the rivalry between the two teams has faded, the last time these two teams met this season there were certainly sparks of old school hockey to be seen. A multitude of fights, Red Wings fans justifying dirty plays, and a Bertuzzi getting suspended. That game will be broadcast at 7 PM MT on Altitude.