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In the run-up to tonight’s game between the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators, the focus was almost entirely on Matt Duchene playing his first game in Denver since the trade that sent him packing last November.
Once the game actually got going, it appeared both teams forgot there was a game scheduled at all. Sloppy play with the puck from both teams dominated the early going and the Senators capitalized first when Ryan Dzingel found himself alone in front of Philipp Grubauer and he banged it home to give Ottawa the 1-0 lead.
Things got awkward a few minutes later when the Avalanche gave a verbal appreciation for Duchene’s time in Denver, tossing up a graphic and giving Duchene a chance to thank you. He waved to the crowd and then promptly thanked them by scoring immediately after Ottawa won the ensuing faceoff to make it 2-0.
The Senators took their two-goal lead into the first intermission as the lethargic Avalanche sulked their way into the bowels of the Pepsi Center.
A great shift from Colorado’s top forward line and defense pairing saw them end Craig Anderson’s shutout bid when Sam Girard banged home a puck in front of the net for the first goal by an Avs defenseman this season.
The lead was extended back to two by Ottawa on the very next shift as momma there went that man again when Duchene fired home a one-timer past Grubauer to make it 3-1 and stun the suddenly raucous crowd.
In a pretty clean game, limited power-play opportunities can make a huge difference and the Avalanche proved that when they went on their first PP of the night. A great passing play from the PP’s three main players ended in a Mikko Rantanen missile to bring the score to 3-2.
Despite some more great opportunities, Anderson kept the Avalanche from coming all the way back and Ottawa entered the third period with a one-goal advantage. The deficit was the first time this season the Avalanche had gone into the third period while trailing.
Ottawa’s lead did not last long.
Carl Soderberg rebounded from a tough first two periods where he missed multiple chances by…banging home a puck off the back of Anderson’s skate into the net just one minute into the third period and as a Sens penalty was expiring.
From there, Colorado’s top line completely took over the game.
Gabe Landeskog netted what proved to be the game-winning goal at 6:14 of the third with Rantanen and Tyson Barrie picking up the assists.
Nathan MacKinnon got into the fun when he scored just over two minutes later with Landeskog and Rantanen grabbing the apples on that goal.
And to finish off the scoring explosion, MacKinnon made an absurd set of moves down the left side of the ice and made a perfect cross-ice pass to Matt Nieto, who simply tapped the puck home to make it 6-3 and finish off the scoring in what had turned into a route. Rantanen picked up the second assist on the Nieto goal, giving him four points on the night.
As the Avs won by 6-3, the top line’s dominance left little doubt as to which line was the best in the NHL right now. At the end of the night, Rantanen sits atop the NHL scoring lead with 20 points, MacKinnon is second with 18, and Landeskog is tied for fifth with 15 points.