Currently, the Colorado Avalanche are enjoying an easy stretch in their schedule that has enabled them to play three of the weaker teams in the Western conference in less than a week. Last Tuesday the Avs demolished the disappointing Columbus Blue Jackets. Then, after a tough road loss to the formidable Nashville Predators, the Avs returned home Saturday night, and dominated the last place Edmonton Oilers.
Monday night the Avs took on another team at the bottom of the Western conference – the St. Louis Blues.
The Avs entered the game in second place in the Northwest Division, just two points behind the Vancouver Canucks. With the Olympic break approaching and the playoff race tightening up, it was important for the Avalanche to take advantage of an opportunity to face off against a sub-par opponent on their own ice. They did, and with Vancouver having the night off, the Avs left the ice tied for first place.
Both the Blues and the Avs came out aggressive in the first period, landing numerous hits that ultimately led to a fight between the Avalanche’s David Koci and the Blues’ DJ King at the 2:21 mark. The fight was detrimental for the Avs on two levels: Koci—the Avs’ enforcer— left the ice with a broken hand and will have to miss an indefinite number of games; and the fight gave the Blues’ momentum.
The Blues immediately brought the puck into the Avs’ zone to go on a solid attack, and Eric Brewer quickly slapped the puck into the net from the top of the key. Just over three minutes into the game, the Blues jumped to a 1-0 lead.
The Avs wasted no time responding, and less than a minute later TJ Galiardi displayed incredible moves to skate through the Blues’ defense and wrist the puck into the goal to tie the game at 1-1.
Then at the 12:00 mark, the Blues applied more offensive pressure, the Avs failed to clear the puck, and eventually Erik Johnson launched a distant wrist shot that flew right past Avs goaltender Craig Anderson. This put the Blues up 2-1.
With four minutes remaining in the first period and the Avs struggling to build an offensive attack, an interference penalty by the Blues’ TJ Oshie handed the Avs a huge power play opportunity. The Avs passed the puck around the zone, slapped a couple of powerful shots on net, and rookie Brandon Yip slammed a rebound into the goal so hard that the entire building shook.
The power play goal brought the crowd to life, and after a high-scoring first period, the Avs went to the locker room tied at 2-2.
For the Avs, the scoring continued in the second period, as just 2:25 in the Avs’ Chris Stewart, another rookie, redirected a Wilson slap shot into the net to give the Avs their first lead of the night at 3-2.
“I’m not really sure how it happened,” said Stewart. “I sent it down to Tucker and then Tucker fed Wilson. I was just trying to keep my defensive back to the net, and it suddenly went in.”
Just over a minute later, the Blues turned the puck over in their own zone to the Avs’ Paul Stastny. He promptly pushed it into the net to give the Avs’ some breathing room with a 4-2 lead.
The Avs continued to bring heated offensive pressure into the Blues zone, and at the 12:00 mark of the second period Yip scored his second goal of the game to make it 5-2.
“I just turned around and fired it on net,” said Yip on his second goal.
The Blues had some chances but continued to be their own worst enemy. . With eight minutes left in the second period, a Blues goal was negated by a hooking penalty on TJ Oshie.
Then with six minutes left in the period, a high sticking penalty by the Avs’ Chris Durno handed the Blues a four minute power play. The Avs penalty kill team did an excellent job of clearing the puck and the Blues failed to get off a single clean shot through the end of the period.
The Avalanche did a good job of not being complacent with their lead. Rather, throughout the third period they continued to fight for loose pucks, control possessions, and bring offensive pressure. While the aggressive play did not lead to more scoring, it kept the Blues from mounting any attacks and allowed the Avs to skate off the ice with an impressive 5-2 victory.
The primary theme of the season for the Avalanche has been productive contributions from rookies. The rookies for the Avalanche have accumulated more points than the rookies for any other team, and tonight was no different as Stewart and Yip combined for three goals and five points.
“I’m still learning a lot everyday, and the guys are doing a great job of teaching me,” said Yip, who scored two goals on the night. “I’ve just been keeping it simple to help out the team, and I’m lucky to play with some good players.”
The rookies for the Avalanche have accumulated more points than the rookies for any other team.
“I don’t consider them rookies anymore,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “At this time of the season we’re well past the half-way mark, and everyone knows that we’re fighting for a playoff spot here…this is the group of guys we have and we’re gonna move forward with them. Now they have some experience under their belt, and even though they’re young players, they’ve been put in situations this year that I think have helped them mature pretty quickly.”
In addition to excellent play from rookies, the solid play of the Avs’ penalty kill team is another reason for the team’s victory.
“Penalty-kills have been very good for us,” said Sacco. “It’s improved a lot since the start of the year…it’s been a very big part of our success lately, and special teams is very important down the stretch.”
With Monday night’s victory, the Avs were able to go 3-0 against the bottom three teams of the Western conference in less than a week. One of the true tests of a good team is that they dominate inferior teams, and that’s exactly what the Avs did this week.
“It’s great to be back to our winning ways,” said TJ Galiardi, who scored the Avs’ first goal of the game. “It’s important to build momentum heading into the break.”