Avs Watch Milestones, Lose Games

by | Dec 4, 2023

Avs Watch Milestones, Lose Games

by | Dec 4, 2023

The Colorado Avalanche went west on the weekend, hoping for four points and ending up with one. What happened, and what does the disparity in style of play they experienced say about what will work in the playoffs, when they arrive?

The Avalanche tired themselves out versus the Anaheim Ducks in an eventual shootout loss, then faced off against the Kings twenty-two hours later. Their game didn’t vary, though the play was less eventful against the Kings. Put that down to the fact that LA plays a more structured game. Way, way more structured. On Saturday down the street from Disneyland, the puck was flung hither and yon, large distances, on the diagonal, you name it.

That was the Ducks’ play, mind you. Colorado tends more toward power rushes, the skill of their big forwards always on display. But what the Ducks’ style did was keep the game wide open for stretches, so the Avalanche could respond to the Ducks with long diagonal passes of their own. They capitalized in the early going, opening up a 2-0 lead before surrendering a goal. Even when they did that, they got it back, to end the first period 3-1.

This on a special night for John Gibson, who now becomes the Ducks’ goalie with the most appearances for the team. He surpassed JS Giguere, who appeared in a video board tribute to congratulate Gibson on the milestone. This was Gibson’s 448th NHL game, all with Anaheim. Giguere played more overall, but he also played with Hartford and Calgary before the Ducks and Toronto and Colorado after. Of course, Gibson is nowhere close to being done at this tally.

Gibson then went on to have a bit of a shaky start, with at least one of the goals zipping right past him almost unacknowledged. It felt as period one wound down like the night was not going to go his way. How would it be to get yanked in a milestone appearance? Coach Cronin held in with him, and the team got better in front of him. Even while taking unnecessary and momentum-killing penalties, and surrendering goals in the late going of a period (the first), the Ducks kept at it, pressing, pressing.

There’s not much you can do versus an offense as powerful and domineering at that of the Colorado team, but Anaheim got their second goal early in the second period, their third midway through the final twenty minutes, and held on. There was a palpable feeling of “Oh, my, can we do this?” for the last four minutes of the game, but Gibson came up larger and larger as time went on. His most spectacular save came late, with the leg, off of Ross Colton. That doesn’t take into account a glove save earlier on a shot that appeared to have all the space in the world to sneak by him.

The game ended up in a shootout, a new thing for Rookie Leo Carlsson, who got the winning goal. This went along with his regulation goal and assist to make him the game’s first star.

Afterwards, he commented, “It feels amazing. Obviously Colorado is a great team, so it was a great team effort.” He said it’s easier to play Colorado at home than away, as the Ducks will do in the coming week.

I would have made Gibson first star, actually, because he really did round into shape and play an outstanding, almost spectacular, game after poking along in the early going. He ended up third star of the night.

Who was second? Alex Killorn, also having a goal and an assist, but whose goal was his 200th career one. He talked to the media after, offering, “I feel like we’ve played some good hockey recently. It seems like we make these mistakes early in games, where we give up breakaways and two-on-ones. It seems like every game, we’re fighting to get back into it . . . . We want to tighten things up so we can play with some leads and not always be fighting our way back.”

And so it was up the freeway to Los Angeles for an uncommon 5pm Sunday start. The Avs, as was indicated above, played a somewhat different game, but probably more in response to the Kings short-pass, lockdown style of play than by design. And they still had those wicked breakouts and rushes, MacKinnon and Rantanan jaunting down the ice, heads up, the puck on the stick and nobody able to take it away.

The Kings had some rushes of their own, as when they tied the game at one early in period two. Mikey Anderson stole a loose puck in middle ice, rushing in and one-timing a slapshot that Byfield redirected past goaltender Alexandar Georgiev.

Byfield would later talk about the game to say, “I just try to go to the net and get my stick down. Playing with [Kempe] and Kopi, two great passers, so I just try to get there, and good things happen.”

“We kind of started off slow in the game and each period we got better and better,” he summarized.

Nothing changed as period two wound down, and the shots were 14-14 with the score 1-1 and three minutes to go. Was this low-event hockey? Not exactly. Just two teams that were able to counter with defense so that relatively few chances opened up. That 14-14 was 15-15 when the second was closing, and 16-15 Colorado when the Avs forced Cam Talbot to make a toe save on a late drive from the point that might have had the highest probability of going in of that of any shot to that moment. Still, you couldn’t call the game exciting. That’s the trade-off made by the LA style of play.

The mostly full house (at least the upper bowl) of fans kept up their support, and the Kings paid them off in the third period, scoring three goals including an empty-net one and thus winning the game 4-1. They outshot Colorado 38-21, not always an indication of strong play, but in this case, yes. Unlike the Ducks, who played to preserve the tie, the Kings pressed for the win, and they got it (as did the Ducks, of course).

After the match, Coach McLellan commented on his team’s resilience. “It was a tough night for us, and we knew it would be a tough night for [the Avs] as well. I thought the Avalanche played pretty well. They were quicker than us, particularly during the first period. I don’t know if we expected that to happen, but we played through, and we were better as the night went on. In the third we kind of got our jump back and were aggressive again.”

Part of the proceedings were that Anze Kopitar gained an assist which put him past Marcel Dionne for all-time assists with the club. Kopitar now has 758. It seems like every week now, Kopitar is putting up a new team record. As McLellan said, “He’s got probably ten pucks at home in the last three weeks.”

So the Avalanche came to SoCal for the weekend, saw their opponents set various milestones, and they exited with one point of four. But they showed, along with the Kings, what playoff hockey in the West will probably look like come springtime: hard, intense, positional, and anything but wide open.

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