I’m prone to hyperbole. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a writer, a millennial, or a former emo kid. All three have definitely contributed to the tendency, so I’ll often joke about hockey games and how “half the game” was played at 5v5 so the results are an unreliable narrator.

Tonight, however, the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres treated the world to a game where just 38:12 was played at 5v5. Those numbers could have been worse, too, were if not for essentially each team being given a two-minute 5v3 advantage.

Each team scored on those advantages, too, as this game saw five power-play goals and an empty-net goal in Colorado’s 6-4 win.

Following Colorado’s worst game of the season two nights ago in Winnipeg, the Avs knew they needed a better effort tonight in Buffalo against the upstart Sabres. When a team as proud as Colorado lays an egg, it’s fair to expect them to avoid putting another lackluster effort forward.

I think it’s fair to say they accomplished that goal tonight, even though it wasn’t the kind of “drop the hammer” response we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing in previous years. With the personnel challenges the Avs are dealing with, those kinds of games are going to be pretty rare.

What is disappointing about tonight’s game is that the Avs are relatively healthy on defense. Bowen Byram is an integral part of the group, but his absence alone should not see the kind of porous defense being played and it was minor contributions from just about everyone who helped put together another dismal defensive effort.

It’s tough to judge Alexandar Georgiev’s response to the 5-0 drubbing against the Jets because almost all four Buffalo goals there was either nothing he could do or he was on an island in a very tough spot. He didn’t give up anything free, however, and that felt like the difference in this game.

Colorado’s offense caught the biggest break between the two teams when J.T. Compher’s cross-ice feed hit a Buffalo stick and deflected into the net. That was the game’s first goal and was the beginning of a highlight reel of two goalies who didn’t stand much of a chance on pucks flying past them.

Buffalo tied the game when Colorado’s fourth line completely broke down defensively and Jacob MacDonald was the lone man back in the zone and couldn’t prevent the wide-open backdoor feed to J.J. Peterka that resulted in his fifth goal of the season.

Scorching-hot scoring monster Tage Thompson put the Sabres ahead at the end of the first period when the Avs were called for their third penalty of the period and Buffalo finally cashed. Colorado got it to under 15 seconds left but a scramble left Thompson alone against Georgiev. The goalie challenged hard, Thompson walked around him and tucked it home with ease and a 2-1 Sabres lead after the first period.

All hell broke loose in period two as the Avs drew two penalties five seconds apart, giving them 1:55 of a two-man advantage.

Nathan MacKinnon cashed in and with about 50 seconds left in the second penalty, the Avs still had time to do some damage and Artturi Lehkonen did just that to give the Avs a 3-2 lead. All three goals were power-play goals.

Two minutes passed and the MacKinnon sniped one from the middle of the ice to make it 4-2 Colorado and give MacKinnon four points on the night.

We weren’t even close to done with the penalty parade, however, as the Avs got the rare two penalties at the same time and Buffalo got their own chance at a lengthy two-man advantage.

The Avs killed the first 1:45 of the advantage before Dylan Cozens blew a perfect shot past Georgiev and it was 4-3 again.

Back at 5v5, Compher got his second goal of the game as he took a big rebound from a Logan O’Connor shot and put it high glove side and the Avs had a cozy 5-3 lead heading into the third period.

This is where I found myself feeling a little disappointed in Colorado’s game. It wasn’t just that Alex Tuch scored on a breakaway just seven seconds into the third period to make it 5-4, it was the entire period.

Buffalo played last night, Colorado did not. That is the classic scheduled win for the Avs coming in. They should have had the legs in the third period while Buffalo lost their edge a bit thanks to natural fatigue and what had to be an exhausting second period.

Instead, the Sabres pushed and pushed and pushed in the third period. While there was only 11:44 of 5v5 play in the third period, the Sabres did what they could in that time. Shots were only 5-5, so the Avs kept the quantity low but with four high-danger chances in that time, it was again the highest of quality chances they allowed.

Each team got two power play chances in the third period. With a chance to slam the door, Colorado’s elite attack couldn’t get it done. The penalty kill ultimately got the job done, but if you go back and watch it, boy did they ever catch some breaks along the way. The Sabres had multiple excellent scoring chances that they just simply missed.

Hey, that’s hockey a lot of nights. One team cashes, the other team crashes. Taking advantage of your opportunities is the name of the game and the Avs were the better team in that area. It’s why they walked out with two points. Mikko Rantanen’s empty-net goal sealed the deal but as far as wins go, this one is pretty low on the list that you’re “happy” about.

The Avs just didn’t play all that well and with multiple chances to put Buffalo away, they just couldn’t get there. You couldn’t ask for anything more from your stars, at least offensively.

MacKinnon finished with a five-point night (2 G, 3 A), Makar and Devon Toews each had two assists, and Rantanen had a goal and an assist. Compher had a career night with two goals and two assists and won 21 of 32 faceoffs. The big guns were exceptional and Compher was the extra guy to help them out.

All of that is great, but that it’s taking career-best nights from even their best players to get wins right now makes me at least a little uncomfortable. Every day this group doesn’t sustain another injury and gets closer to reinforcements is a good day; that’s even more true when they win a game and maintain their position in the standings.

The only concern here is that this formula just isn’t sustainable. The Avs have already gotten away with it longer than they should have, but now the cracks are showing a bit in Georgiev as he was downright bad against Winnipeg and then on the wrong end of tough circumstances tonight.

Colorado’s four-game road trip is now half over and they have Boston up next. While they’ve had historical success in Boston, this Bruins team is 19-3 on the season and a perfect 13-0 at home. That’s an awfully tough task for this beat-up Avalanche squad. They might need another career night from a player or two.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Watching Sam Girard has been pretty interesting since he returned. The legs are there, he’s moving the way you’d expect, but he’s icing the puck a lot on breakout attempts. He does his usual good work getting away from forecheck pressure, but he’s following it up with a pass that misses the mark and results in a defensive-zone faceoff. One of those recent icings came when Megna stopped skating horizontally and Girard expected him to continue his route. Megna stopped and turned up ice, causing the pass to miss badly. I might go digging through the shifts to see how common these miscommunications with call-ups are happening or if Girard is misfiring with everyone. Either way, he’s not moving the puck the way he should be despite his mobility appearing to be there. Just something to watch, I suppose.
  • I couldn’t have been more down on Jean-Luc Foudy’s debut in Winnipeg. It was just an awful night in my eyes. Tonight, however, was much more of the Foudy you hope to see. He was feisty, moving his feet well, and made a couple of nice plays with the puck that were vintage Foudy. What I really loved, though, was him taking a big hit, getting up and tracking down the guy who ran him and smoking him in return. It was all legal from each player, but just good, hard hockey. Foudy showing well in that situation will be noticed and appreciated by his teammates. Every guy who hits the NHL has plenty of skill in his bag, but separation happens very quickly when guys start getting hit. Foudy showed a little of the grit he will need to succeed long-term in the NHL. He’s going to need to do it more, but game two far exceeded game one.
  • I haven’t noticed much of anything from Alex Galchenyuk in two games. That line is getting completely crushed in shot metrics so it’s hard for three offensive-first players to really show well when they never have the puck, but I’ve had notes on Foudy and Newhook each game. Galchenyuk is a blank in my notebook so far. So far.
Author

A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @returnofaj

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