While Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera deserves a lot of the credit for making 34 saves to hand the Avs a 2-0 shutout on their own ice, the Avs also deserve a lot of the blame.
Despite spending a large portion of the game in the Coyotes’ zone, and despite delivering 34 shots, the Avs played a sloppy and uninspired game, were unable to execute offensively, and shockingly the first goal of the night—an easy rebound goal scored by Taylor Pyatt 9:35 minutes into the first period– proved to be the game winner.
“We just didn’t generate enough offense tonight,” said Avs goaltender Craig Anderson. “We had a couple of close calls but just couldn’t bury one.”
The first period entailed numerous clumsy neutral zone struggles and languid battles for loose pucks, with neither team capable of — or seemingly interested in — taking the puck deep into the other teams’ zone.
While the Avs kept sleeping, halfway through the 1st frame the Coyotes’ briefly woke up as they brought a sudden surge of solid offensive pressure. From the point Coyotes forward Vernon Fiddler launched a long slap shot that bounced off of Anderson’s chest, and Pyatt easily backhanded the rebound into the net to give Phoenix an early 1-0 lead.
Anderson should have been able to control the puck to prevent the big rebound, and although that was Anderson’s only mistake of the game, due to an offensive slumber by the Avs this mistake was fatal.
The entire second period the Avs were scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to get passed the Coyotes’ defense. Although the Avs were able to cross into the Phoenix zone with the puck, the sticks of the Coyotes’ defenders seemed to be everywhere as they incessantly broke up all promising Avalanche plays and blocked all attempted Avalanche shots.
With two minutes left in the second period, the first penalty of the night was finally called as Coyote forward Martin Hanzal committed a hooking penalty. For the Avs this would be their only power play opportunity of the night, and like they had done in 15 of their previous 16 power play chances, they squandered the opportunity, were unable to develop any offensive plays, and only managed to release one shot during the entire advantage.
In the third period the Coyotes backed up to play defense to protect their 1-0 lead. Though the Avs controlled the puck and brought some pressure into the Phoenix zone, most of their plays were broken up before they could even get started, and anytime the Avs got the puck deep the Coyotes’ defenders easily swiped the puck away and knocked it back out of the zone. The Avs only saw a few good scoring opportunities, and the few decent shots the Avs were able to launch were easily stifled and swallowed by LaBarbera.
In the closing minutes of the game, the Avs brought steady pressure and had some good scoring opportunities, but they again were unable to connect on passes. After many whiffs, blunders and stumbles by the Avs, the Coyotes sent the puck down the ice and Pyatt scored on an empty net to tally his second goal of the night and to seal the victory for the Phoenix at 2-0.
“We usually score a lot of goals,” said a very frustrated Anderson after the game. “We’re top five in the league in goals scored and we have a lot of offensive talent. Usually when you give up a goal early in the game, you usually rebound from that. But tonight we couldn’t do it; we couldn’t get one past LaBarbera, and so [that one goal in the 1st period] was the deciding factor of the game.”
Aside from his one mistake in the first period, Anderson played a great game and did everything he could to make excellent saves and to keep his team in the game. However, it wasn’t enough as he was out-dueled by LaBarbera.
“[LaBarbera] played well,” said Avalanche alternate captain Paul Stastny. “They got good defense…but there were a couple of rebounds where he made some good saves, and anytime a goalie pitches a shutout he plays well.”
While LaBarbera played a great game and made some impressive saves to get the shutout, the Avalanche didn’t make him sweat much as the lackluster Avs offense was incapable of executing any plays and unable to manufacture any good scoring opportunities.
“They’re a good, fundamentally sound team,” said Stastny, “but obviously if you don’t score you’re not gonna find a way to win. So—hats off to them—but our offense has to get a couple of goals to give ourselves a chance to win.”
“We played pretty solid defensively,” added Anderson, “and we were ready to play a zero-zero game, and so it’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get one…It’s frustrating when you lose, whether it’s 1-0 or 5-4; a loss is a loss, and you gotta be frustrated by it, but you gotta learn from it.”