I like the Avalanche. Back in the day, I would not be able to say that, but this new edition has always been fun to watch. I always liked watching Matt Duchesne play, and after watching this today, I like him even more.
But the Colorado team is in the midst of a do or die, missing games in hand, fight to the finish deathmatch with 1/3rd of the Western Conference that seem to change spots daily in the mad rush to be the Canucks or Blues' first round opponent. They did it the year before last, can they do it again?
Honestly, if they were not in our division, did not have a history of being a rival a decade ago, I might actually cheer for them. Apart from Duchene, what's not to like when it comes to talking about potential? Their team building makes the Oilers look like they do it with a dart board. Anyone can draft the top guy, can't miss players. But little bastard Burnaby boy Mark Olver was 140th overall (5th Rd) in 2008. David Jones is another, an '03 9th rounder, 288th overall. ( one worse than Jannik Hansen a year later ). The return to the levels of glories past is an everchanging and seemingly long term march. But I like the way they play getting there. None of the trap, though they play OK defensively. Forechecking, hitting, skating and creativity. I like when the other team wants to play on offense. Its fun!
Sure, the Canucks make them look like the Washington Generals to our Harlem Globetrotters when you look at the record. Thats the 5th straight game this year ( and the second straight to O/T ) where the Canucks got the "W".
They sure made our guys look like Slow Poke Rodriguez in that first period however. Roberto Luongo was wonderful, especially in the opening stanza. But it was a masterful display of playing strong all over the ice in the second and third, and, as Henrik Sedin mentioned the other day, "playing the right way" ,that was the difference in Denver tonight.
- There really is no way to sugar coat it. The Canucks sucked in the first period. They seemed to be under pressure the whole period. Roberto Luongo did all he could, and kept it close, stopping 16 of 17 shots. After a strong shift for the Avs first line, on the very first change, the visitors had a fire drill instead and gave the home team an early power play. But after robbing Landeskog on a back door play that was just too easy, both Sami Salo and Jannik Hansen were slow to do , well, anything, and Gabriel Langeskog was able to take the rebound and tuck it in for the first goal.
- Not everyone was still at the hotel, as Ryan Kesler showed the hustle he had all game shortly thereafter. He might have been the best Canuck not on the scoresheet tonight, and was really good as the reigning Selke winner. He was hunting pucks and looking to be involved all game. I know the #CanucksTeaParty was considering him for their latest scapegoat campaign, and he has not produced at the 41 goal clip of last year. Sue me, I admire the all out, I'm stronger than you style he has. Before you say he shoots too much and does not use his linemates, thats what they want him to do. Most goal scorers from the year before get more attention the next year, and the lack of training early does affect that season coming off an injury. Tonight? 5 shots ( missed 1 ), 1 giveaway ( and I simply don't believe that the Avs' guy did not credit him a hit tonight. He was hunting the puck along the boards all night. I know I saw him hit more than one guy!) as well as going 12 of 22 on draws, with a need for him to be more the defensive go to guy with Samme Pahlsson going to the box twice. It forced his SH TOI to 2:52, with a 19:06 TOI total. Of course we can expect more. Because we know we will get more. But when he does not score, don't forget the man is our best "give a shit" player.
- This game had a bite to it early as well. After a head scratching even up call, with Aaron Rome going off for not letting Kobasew run his hands through his head ( I think they were upset that Romer had hit Barrie earlier in a shift where he had to skate hard to get back on the turnover, and came around in front of him as he was hitting him..I thought it was fine myself ), the run of calls started. I'm not going to bitch about the calls one way or the other, just reporting that the reffing was at its usual unusual levels of consistency. Suffice to say this. Both teams had a couple shoddy calls against.( out of the 11 total penalties ) That early interaction also led to a huge but legal hit by Hunwick on Romer, which ended his night.
- It was tough to lose a defenseman that early, but while the first was a bit of a tough one ( seeing as everyone but Luongo got the start time right ), the blue liners persevered well. Kevin Bieksa got on the board with 2 assists, a +1, and only 2 shots ( 1 missed, probably on purpose, he likes the bank play ) 2 blocks, 2 hits, 1 penalty and 1 giveaway. He was also on the ice for 26:44. That was the theme tonight. Bones and AV worked their defenders well in the last two periods. Alexander Edler had a team high 28:24 that featured over 8 minutes of special teams time. He was a +2 for it, with 1 shot, 1 miss, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, and an eye popping 9 blocks. The third member of the Big 3 today, Dan Hamhuis, he only blocked 6, the lazy bastard ( the Canucks blocked 24 shots tonight )., and had 2 of his 4 shots hit the mark. He did hit 3 guys, but was an even, and while his 26:10 TOI featured 6 min of special teams time, it was more like 2 min PP / 4 min PK split. The big three battled well after a first where no one looked good, and showed that whether playing with a usual partner, or anyone that was not panting in the mile high air on the bench at the time, the Canuck defenders can execute under a heavy forecheck by playing the system.
- There was one guy that got way away from his usual excellence a lot today, but I am not going to be too cruel to Sami Salo. Apart from respecting the senior member of the team, he recovered from his perhaps poorest period of the season to contribute at both ends. He got an assist on the power play, had a couple shots, a couple hits, a couple blocks, in addition to a penalty in just under 20 minutes on ice. In the third, there was one play where he checked the onrushing guy deftly with the stick, and then when Duchesne tried to follow up and Smeagol by, Sami crunched him and finished the play just by continuing on with his momentum. Efficiency, they call that. But the guy that I thought was impressive was Mr Cool himself, Christopher Tanev. The kid was a +1 , with 2 of 3 shots on net and a couple blocks in his 17:54 of work. But what I found impressive is how you can literally see him getting better. He played with everyone tonight, and was a solid partner with them all. Even the shot that missed was one in which he made the right play, getting around the onrushing checker deftly and just missing the stick looking for the tip in front. I just love watching this kid make the little plays well under pressure. Thank you Mike Gillis and Dave Gagner.
- Let's just say it now, Mason Raymond has found something. Whether it is from the press box visit, getting fed up with being so damn nice to the media guys that found new and interesting ways to ask him about his lack of production, or just finally starting to feel strong and whole after feeling the affects of that past back injury, THAT is the top six winger that we remember seeing. That shot after recovering a puck off of the initial shot just by being the fastest guy around made me nod and smile, remembering the 25 goal season where they were ripped top shelf as first choice, not last. 6 shots ( 2 more misses ) sure point to being oh so happy to get to play with Henrik Sedin, who is continuing on with being a #1 centre. 2 takeaways to tie Jannik Hansen for the team lead in that category. 19:18 TOI that was so noticeable that he got bumped up to the "first" power play late ( 3:08 of his TOI was on the PP, yet one of the better PKers on the team saw zero PK time ). Hell, I saw him cutting to the net hard on multiple occasions. That bodes well. Very well.
- It bodes well because he can make a line go when he is on his game. He has become the replacement Twin, with AV running the line blender at puree all night. I think I saw about four guys run through being their third linemate ( Kassian to start, Hansen on occasion, Higgins I think once or twice, and Maxim Lapierre late ( my fave look. He was flying tonight. His skating and hounding the puck style seemed to fit OK there late, and confused the checkers. ) Its a testament to Henrik Sedin that he can adapt and stay involved so much in the game without his brother and lifelong linemate. He had an assist and 2 shots, his 5 of 16 face off disaster was mitigated by wingers like Raymond and others hunting down the puck for him all night. Yes, the power play could be better. It also connected once ( 1 of 5 ), but looked hesitant and out of sorts on the two man advantage and the four minute power play that went from first to second periods. But you and I both know that it will take a bit to figure that part out without Daniel, and it did look more dangerous later, on the David Jones penalty in the last five minutes of the second.
- Damn, Hansen really had his regular agitating game going tonight. He is a third liner par excellence. That play where he victimized young Mr Barrie will surely fuel the kid to better things, but he looked bad there. Finding his linemate Chris Higgins for his second goal of the game, I think its safe to say that Samme Pahlsson is enjoying where he landed in the line up.( and showing his "Swedish Touch" hands...what a pass!) That line had the first line assignment all night, and did very well containing them. They are going to get their looks, but apart from on changes, and a couple shifts in their own end that forced them to scramble, when you play that 3rd line, you are always going to have a stick in the way, a guy leaning on you, and someone hunting you like a wolf if you have the puck. Hansen - an assist on the GWG, +2, 1 shot, 1 block, 2 hits, and 2 takeaways. Chris Higgins - 2 huge goals ( note to Varly, when you go down to your knees too early, you are going to get torched by NHL shooters ), +2, 2 of 4 shots on net, 1 hit and a takeaway. You notice that AV did not play with that line too much at all. Samme Pahlsson had his moments against the young fast Avs, but he still had an assist, was a +1, had 1 of 2 shots find the target, and 1 hit. His two penalties were the big negative, but like I said earlier, iits not exactly consistent from game to game. What one guy found OK in Dallas is something you go "feel shame" about in Denver.
- Thats about it. There's more of course, like Zack Kassian being on the defacto 1st line and falling to the 4th, disappearing almost as much on the ice as he did on the bench, but I am not going to go too nuts on the rookie. He showed flickering signs at times, and the kid must wonder what in the eff is going on with this West Conference travel after starting in the Greyhound Bus division this year. His 9:53 showed how that was going for him on this night, but AV still threw him out there in the last five minutes. You'll get there kid.
Let's face it though, I could have gone another 1000 words on Roberto Luongo and still would not have done his game justice. Locked in. Instead, watch my fave song from School Of Rock. Like the Avs, they have some talented kids in that band. Hell, Zack Moonieham was only 12 when he wrote this one! You'll get there Colorado!