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Avs again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 15, 2020

I don’t even know what to write about this game. I’ve been sitting here for several minutes just kind of lost in thought. It was all just so…familiar.

Avs played well? Got an early lead?

Check.

Avs lost the special teams battle?

Check.

Avs had a lead going into the third period?

Check.

Avs blew it thanks to a combination of questionable goaltending and self-inflicted poor play?

Check check check.

And in the end, it was checkmate when Esa Lindell put Colorado out of their misery with an overtime goal to give the Dallas Stars the 3-2 win in the extra frame.

The Avs can pretend to take solace in getting a point (though it’s not the worst outcome, obviously) but are now two points behind the Stars in the standings. Given the Stars clinched all head-to-head tiebreakers with the Avs, it might as well be three standings points as the teams race to second place in the Central Division.

It started off well once again as the Avalanche raced out to a 2-0 lead in a dominant first period in which they also outshot the Stars 16-4.

“You look at the first period, that was really good,” Philipp Grubauer said after. “I mean, they had like three shots and dumped one in from the red line. We got to find a way to play that way [for] 60 minutes. We got to find a way to stay out of the penalty box because the PK is in a little bit of a slump too, so we got to find a way to get out there, but we got to work. [Head coach Jared Bednar] is right, it’s all about work ethic and backchecking.”

Things didn’t stay great for Colorado, however. Penalties in the second period gave the Stars life. Dallas scored on its first power play only to have the goal called back because it was deemed offside. The Avs responded by killing the rest of that penalty…only to put Dallas right back on the power play just minutes later.

The Stars scored again to cut it to 2-1 for real this time and Colorado responded with some push of their own but Ben Bishop stood tall (as he does) and denied the Avs.

Another third period, another blown lead as Colorado couldn’t hold the one-goal advantage. This one was a little different as the Avs controlled plenty of play and were outshooting and outchancing the Stars but couldn’t solve Bishop.

That wasn’t a problem at the other end when Colorado’s defense broke down and Grubauer gave up a rebound to Jason Dickinson, who took the initial shot. Dickinson banged home his rebound and tied the game, putting a dagger in Colorado’s game and erasing whatever confidence was on the Avalanche bench.

“We had a good game,” Ian Cole said. “You know, we played well. We didn’t give them much, but unfortunately, the goals we did give them were backbreakers – partway through the third period and then obviously overtime. So, for the most part it was good, but we still have to figure out how to complete games.”

Completing games remains the problem, not even playing well. Outside of the loss to the New York Rangers, it’s hard to find a game in the last couple weeks where the Avs truly played poorly. It’s simply finishing opponents off that has cropped up as a legitimate issue.

It’s not that the Avs aren’t working hard, it’s that they’re not working effectively with the lead. Their failure to add to their two-goal total against one of the leagues most anemic offenses stands out as a critical failure as much as the defensive breakdown that led to the game-tying goal or the penalty kill failures that have sabotaged so much of the team’s solid play at even strength.

“Work ethic was good,” Cole said. “I think our approach to this game was good. I think we had the right mentality, we had the right mindset. We did a lot of really good things, but again, we got to learn how to finish games. You know, we can play the best game in the world but if we lose, it’s still a loss right? We don’t really take moral victories around here and two points is really all that matters, especially as we continue on through this year.”

This is the time of year when teams begin to really hunker down, tighten the screws, and playoff teams separate themselves. In previous years, it meant a prolonged slump for the Avs. Despite feeling good about the game overall, the team has to turn the page on another failure.

“I think we played really good the whole game,” Grubauer said. “I don’t think we gave up too many chances. We worked on the D-zone coverage a little bit and how we played off the rush. I think that was one of our better games. A little bit unlucky we hit two posts in the second period that went out, they hit one in overtime and it went in, so that’s how it goes. I think we can build on the last couple of games even though we lost and you got to move forward.”

The Avs are three points from owning second place in the Central but also just three points from being out of the playoffs entirely. In a position that tenuous, it’s time for the Avs to start finding solutions, not raising more questions.

GAME TAKEAWAYS

  • For the longest time, all I had written in this space was “Life is hard.” Tonight just seemed like such a reminder of that because Colorado honestly played a good hockey game overall. Their lack of finish and Grubauer giving up a leaky goal (arguably two) sabotaged their otherwise impressive process.
  • Results matter, though, and while Colorado’s process has been really strong lately (except that Rangers game, which was bad), the results are holding them back and everywhere they look the boat seems to be springing a leak. Even strength is fine but the PP wasn’t dangerous again tonight and the PK gave up two goals, one of which Colorado was lucky to win a challenge to call back. Even then, the Avs scored one real goal tonight with their first goal being an own-goal by Miro Heiskanen. That comes after they struggled to score against Pittsburgh, getting a gift of a goal in that one, too. Without those two goals, these could have been regulation losses and the Avs would be on a lengthy losing skid.
  • Because of those fortunate goals, it’s hard to tell where Colorado’s ‘luck’ really is right now. It always feels like it evens out over time but does it really or is that one of those things we just say to ourselves when things are going against us? With the Avs, it seems like they’re getting plenty of the ‘big’ breaks but none of the smaller ones. That’s life, though.
  • Grubauer really looked fine overall tonight and had this game happened in November, there probably wouldn’t be many strong feelings about it. But it happened in January after weeks of Grubauer not playing very well so it’s tough to feel good for him at all. The second goal was a juicy rebound but given the situation, it’s tough to fault him for that one, especially how apathetic some of the Avs players appeared to be as the play unfolded. That first goal, though, was a killer for the Avs. It goes right through Grubauer after he’d reset from a desperation slide across the crease. Call it bad or unfortunate timing for Grubauer, either way, you want a better result. The OT goal is exactly what I mean when I say Grubauer just has to make a save. It’s a high-quality look from Lindell but he’s not really a big goal scorer and Grubauer just didn’t find a way.

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