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How a confident Avs team dominated the Sharks and their own demons

AJ Haefele Avatar
January 17, 2020

We talked on the podcast this week about how Colorado can turn around this losing skid of theirs. It wasn’t a complicated formula.

Don’t lose the special teams battle.

Get saves.

Win at even strength.

We said two of those three would be sufficient to get Colorado over the hump and help them close out an opponent. In a 4-0 win against the San Jose Sharks, the Avalanche managed to get all three in a relatively easy victory.

Given what a struggle it has been for the Avalanche in third periods, let’s just start there. Nursing a four-goal lead obviously makes life a little easier than trying to protect a one-goal lead but Colorado managed the game perfectly.

They played smart, safe, efficient hockey while avoiding sitting back and letting San Jose dictate the game. The Sharks engaged in classic hockey rough stuff disguised as “message sending” as they were getting worked but the Avs just kept their overall cool and closed the game out in a low-event (in terms of shots, anyway) final period that began with them killing a penalty carried over from the second period.

“The PK has been one thing we haven’t been happy with,” Ryan Graves said. “It’s been one thing we’ve been looking at, watching a lot of video, having some discussions amongst the team. I think tonight was a good step but it’s going to be big for us down the stretch.”

While the outcome was different than previous games where Colorado had struggled to hold the lead, the feeling inside the locker room was there didn’t need to be major changes to how they were playing overall.

“Not really that different, I don’t think,” Graves said. “Last game against Dallas we outshot them like 45 to 25 or something. I don’t know what the shots were tonight but we outshot them, outplayed them. I think we deserved more than two goals against Dallas. Bishop played well and that’s going to happen. That’s hockey. We were confident if we played that way the ship will turn around.”

So the story about struggling in third periods was more of something for guys like me to write about and not something they were making a big deal out of internally?

“I think so, yeah,” Graves said. “I don’t think we’ve been gripping our sticks as tight as everyone thinks we are. We were playing some decent hockey. Sometimes that’s just kind of the way the game goes. We were confident that if we kept playing the right way, we would take over.”

It wasn’t that the Avs were apathetic to their struggles, but they weren’t going to overreact to the results because they believed their process was good enough to ultimately get them wins.

“We were analyzing what we were doing and what was costing us and working on it,” Graves said. “We have a tendency to be very offensive and we were looking at what the reasons were and taking all the right steps to make sure we’re giving ourselves the best chance to win hockey games down the stretch.”

As the Avs are one of the more naturally talented teams in the NHL this year, the battle of them against themselves will be just as important in the second half of the season as their battle against other clubs, especially with the league’s easiest schedule ahead of them.


  • After spending most of the week talking about what a terrible unit it is, I have to say the penalty kill was great tonight. They were aggressive on pucks and didn’t just let teams do whatever they wanted with it. They attacked passing lanes and closed hard on pucks. There was a lot of running around in the zone but it had a purpose and wasn’t just scrambling for the sake of scrambling. I’ll take that kind of aggressive effort over them passively watching a team make royal road passes at will.
  • And with the improved defensive effort in front of him, Philipp Grubauer had exactly the kind of night he needed. He wasn’t asked to do anything spectacular in a 27-save shutout but he made every save look routine (they surely weren’t) and the only puck that got by him rang off the post late in the third period when it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The struggles of Grubauer and Pavel Francouz meant a night like tonight was badly needed. A boring, ho-hum performance where Grubauer made NHL goaltending look very easy was just what the doctor ordered. Looking back to the goaltending slump last year, Grubauer turned it around with a shutout over Nashville. Only time will tell if this is the beginning of Grubauer getting it together but you have to give him credit for doing his job tonight, especially after I’ve been so hard on him the last few weeks.
  • This really didn’t feel like the Avs played much differently on the whole from previous games. They just never made the big mistake (soft goal, special teams breakdown, transition scoring chance, etc.) and kept steadily building their lead as the game wore on. The Ryan Graves goal felt like a huge weight lifted off the Avs’ shoulders and it really seemed to put the Sharks out of it.
  • If San Jose wasn’t mentally out of it after Graves made it 3-0, they certainly were when Calvert scored short-handed to make it 4-0. That was just a dagger emotionally to a Sharks team that doesn’t have the same horses as previous years and is dealing with being bad for the first time essentially since they acquired Joe Thornton.
  • That was the other thing that really stood out to me tonight. Just last season these two teams went to war with each other in a seven-game battle and it’s obvious the Sharks have lost so much in that time and the Avs have gained just enough that this felt like a total mismatch throughout. And that’s with Colorado’s top line having just an okay night. Tonight provided me zero belief this Sharks team can overcome their issues and more and more I think they should position themselves as the trade deadline’s most aggressive seller. They are old and expensive and have a few players in their prime right now who should fetch meaningful value if they wanted to reboot.
  • One of those players is Evander Kane, who took some liberties on multiple occasions tonight. He took a run at Cale Makar and was met with an angry Gabe Landeskog before everyone moved on and late in the game he went after the smallest Av there is in Sam Girard and needlessly hit him with the slewfoot. It’s a dangerous play with the puck nowhere in sight and while he was penalized, it’s the kind of thing that warrants a call from the Department of Player Safety. Just because you’re mad doesn’t mean you can go rolling around and doing dangerous stuff. And picking the smallest guy on the ice to pull that against? It’s weak, cowardly stuff.
  • Final thought from me tonight: This was absolutely the kind of game they would have lost last season. The top line neutralized and nobody else really going. But the Nazem Kadri line was very good, especially early, and Val Nichushkin’s goal really set the tone for the game of that line going right at San Jose’s soft defenders. Nichushkin walked right around Brent Burns, who did his standard matador routine and provided no meaningful resistance. That line helped pace the Avs early on and two defensemen added goals on a night where three players scored who were not major factors in last year’s playoff series (Calvert was hurt and Graves a healthy scratch).

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