The Colorado Avalanche returned home after a successful outing in Seattle on Monday night, and Anaheim came to Denver on the second leg of a back-to-back.
After an embarrassing loss to the St. Louis Blues in their last game at home, Colorado needed to reinforce their home-ice advantage with a steady performance.
In a poetic fashion, the Avs flipped the script and won 8-2 against the Ducks tonight.
Their lineup remained similar – particularly in the absence of Artturi Lehkonen who is going to miss some time.
Alexandar Georgiev received the start in net and the second line gave Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar a chance with Ryan Johansen.
With the help of Joel Kiviranta on the fourth line, Andrew Cogliano returned to the lineup.
Also rejoining the group was Sam Girard. Even though Sam Malinski and Caleb Jones were recalled by the Avs this morning, only Jones received the nod with Girard returning.
And it’s a good thing because his scoring contributions got the Avs on the board first.
An Avs powerplay had just finished, so parts of the second unit were still on the ice.
Girard’s initial shot was blocked, but Tatar worked hard to reestablish their entry. Tatar won the board battle and they were able to reset the zone and Jack Johnson fired a shot from up high. The resulting rebound created some chaos at the netfront, and Girard capitalized on it to bang the loose puck home.
Colorado worked hard from the drop of the puck, so that first goal wasn’t surprising. They imposed their will and controlled possession in the Ducks’ end.
Anaheim received their first powerplay opportunity in the first period, but the Avs made quick and easy work of that kill.
The Ducks only registered one shot on net until the final minute and it was limited to their powerplay chance.
Later, Val Nichushin skated the puck in, Nathan MacKinnon absorbed contact in the corner to keep play alive, and it allowed the Avs to cycle the puck up high. Devon Toews sent the puck on net and Nichushkin was there to deflect it in.
With about forty seconds on the clock, after being denied a shorthanded chance on the breakaway moments before, Anaheim scored on just their second shot of the period: a big shot from Radko Gudas was tipped by Sam Carrick.
It’s a shame too – Jones made a nice breakout pass to Tatar but Jackson Lacombe picked it off him. Going back the other way, the Ducks set up in Colorado’s end and Carrick was alone in the slot to redirect Gudas’ shot in.
On the whole, the Avs had a strong period.
The first period was indication enough that an Anaheim team known for their comebacks would play until the final seconds every step of the way, so the Avs had to be smart.
They had to kill a double-minor early in the second, but they received some reprieve thanks to O’Connor drawing a penalty off a shorthanded chance.
Anaheim was more visible in the second period, but the Avs continued to chip away in the shots battle.
With about five minutes remaining, Byram dumped the puck in. Kiviranta chased it down and won the battle with the help of O’Connor on the back wall. O’Connor fed Fredrik Olofsson in the slot and Olofsson one-timed it in.
Now with a two-goal lead as insurance, it was clear the Avs were feeling it a bit.
In the third period, they continued to apply pressure.
Makar, with the help of Miles Wood, broke the puck out of their end. Wood sent the go-ahead pass to Colton in the neutral zone and tagged up O’Connor.
It was a great play in transition because it happened with such speed. O’Connor angled the puck for Colton to collect in the slot all alone and Colton wristed it far-side.
Then on the powerplay, similar to their second goal, the Avs cycled the puck and Makar’s shot was redirected by Nichushkin through the slot – his second goal of the night.
Anaheim didn’t give up. Four minutes later, Anaheim attacked in transition and a broken defensive play gave Anaheim a netfront chance from which Max Jones capitalized on the opportunity.
Credit to the Avs, even with a three goal lead, they seized the moment and the floodgates opened.
Georgiev played the puck behind his net to Girard. Girard made the stretch pass to Kiviranta and Kiviranta protected the puck through two Ducks skaters to wrist the puck past Lukas Dostal.
Twenty-one seconds later, Jack Johnson stood Cam Fowler up at the blueline and forced the puck away. Kiviranta collected it and found Cogliano in the slot. Cogliano wristed it stick-side to make it 7-2.
To cap it all off, they controlled possession in the Ducks’ end. Makar made the slot pass to Toews at the left side, and Toews shot the puck in behind Dostal.
Jared Bednar was pleased with his team’s efforts – particularly inside the bottom-six wherein every member of the fourth line scored a goal and the third line contributed four points with a goal from Ross Colton, his fifth of the year.
“We’re not expecting to score every night, but we have to create energy,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We have to have two lines in the bottom-six that are tough to play against and can play against any team on any line. Tonight we showed that.”
Joel Kiviranta achieved a three-point night and demonstrated his NHL fit in a depth role. In addition to his points production, he played a physical game, winning battles to extend possession, and played responsibly away from the puck.
He was steady and reliable.
“He’s an NHL player, he’s a worker, he’s got a good skill level,” said Bednar. “He can skate, he fits the mold of our bottom-six. Responsible player. When it comes to his checking game, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes there which is what you need in the bottom-six. If we’re not going to score a lot of goals in the bottom-six, we want to make sure at least that we’re suppressing scoring chances and he fits that for us.”
But their dominant performance was bigger than that too. Their backend chipped in with goals from Devon Toews and Sam Girard and nine total points combined among the d-corps. Jack Johnson had a two-point night.
Val Nichushkin gave them a powerplay goal to keep their man-advantage strong, and their penalty kill remained steady as ever, denying Anaheim on all four chances.
Earlier this year Bednar said that he believed the team has another gear.
“That’s the gear. That’s the way I want us to play,” he said tonight. “We’ve been waiting for it, and waiting for it, and it just hasn’t come out of our team yet. A little bit of embarrassment, more determination in our game, that’s really what it comes down to on both sides of the puck. The better we check, the more we create. The more we’re in tune with our details, the better (the) execution is.”
Georgiev was largely untested in the Avs’ end, but he made seven of eight stops on high-to-medium danger chances and kept the Avs in a more-than-comfortable place in the Ducks’ strongest period during the second.
Coupled with the strength of the rest of Colorado’s lineup, it was more than enough to lift them to undeniable victory.
To keep things in perspective moving into the weekend, a young Anaheim team with a rookie netminder boosted their confidence tonight. A real test waits for them in Dallas with a tough division match-up coming up on Saturday.