The Colorado Avalanche hoping to find some late-season consistency travelled to visit the New Jersey Devils and instead suffered one of their most embarrassing losses of the season as they blew a three-goal lead in an eventual 5-3 defeat.
For a change of pace it was the power play which aided the Avalanche in the first period. They cashed in twice on the man advantage to grab an early lead on the Devils despite a little lack of energy. First at 9:04 Nathan MacKinnon batted a loose puck out of the air and it skipped past New Jersey goaltender Nico Daws. Then to close the period out at 14:27 Mikko Rantanen finally hit his patented onetimer from the right circle to extend the lead to two.
In the second period this game started looking suspiciously similar to the previous game against the New York Islanders. The Avalanche added to their lead when Cale Makar potted his 21st goal of the season on a net front rebound at 5:52 and the Avalanche were in cruise control up 3-0 at that point. And then the Avalanche gave it all back.
The Devils had been getting behind the defense for breakaways all game but they established some offensive zone shifts and turned the tide. First Tomas Tatar scored at 9:20 when Darcy Kuemper completely vacated the net and left a wide open cage on a rebound. It wasn’t much longer before Ty Smith tallied the second Devils goal at 12:18 as the puck deflected off of an Avalanche stick snuck past Kuemper. The penalty kill had withstood the first couple minutes but finally succumbed to the second of three minor penalties the Avalanche took that period as Damon Severson tied the game at 17.31. At 3-3 now the Avalanche had to put some focused effort to get back into this game.
The Avalanche had their chances to turn the tide in the final 20 minutes but failed on their two third period power play chances and Nathan Bastian made good on the Devils’ only chance at 13:04 to put New Jersey ahead for good. The Avalanche tried the extra attacker on their last power play for a 6-on-4 advantage but after MacKinnon fumbled the puck the Devils put their fifth goal in the empty net for a 5-3 final.
The penalty kill has been a problem all season and was one of the culprits in this game. Surely the Avalanche front office will bring in a veteran penalty kill specialist to put a band-aid on the unit but the problems are far more systemic. Darcy Kuemper again wasn’t as sharp as he has been which is what’s required for the penalty kill to have any hope at success.
On a second game of a back-to-back on the east coast is understandable if the Avalanche didn’t have their legs or best checking game but to blow a three-goal lead by giving the opponent five unanswered goals is just unacceptable. The penalties were largely committed by the leaders on the team with Landeskog, Kadri and Rantanen each going to the box. No team is going to overcome their stars setting the tone in this manner.
Playing against a familiar face in former Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves was a storyline of the evening as well as Ryan Murray’s return after playing in New Jersey last season. Unfortunately Mikhail Maltsev who was part of the Graves trade wasn’t present to help the bottom six. Also, former Avalanche prospect defenseman Mason Geertsen dressed for the Devils and continued in his hybrid forward enforcer role for New Jersey. As a former fourth round pick it is nice to see him get some games at the highest level.
One final stop on the road trip visiting the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, March 10th at 5pm MT.