It wasn't the prettiest goal, but Erik Johnson will take it. Especially given what the Avalanche defenseman had gone through over the past three days.
Johnson injured his foot during Wednesday's practice after a teammate's shot slammed into it while he was in front of the goal crease, and his status for Friday's game against Carolina was up in the air until the final minutes before puck drop.
Good thing he played, as he—or more his foot—was in the right place at the right time for the game's first score.
After receiving a cross-slot pass from Alex Tanguay, Paul Stastny was juggling the puck in the low right circle. Stastny was eventually pushed off the puck, but Johnson was heading toward the net, and his skate inadvertently hit the puck into the back of the cage.
The goal was reviewed and was upheld after it was determined that he didn't use a kicking motion with his foot.
“I was driving the net and I pretty much stopped so I didn’t run over the goal and the puck just happened to be at my feet," Johnson said. "So I was just stopping and luckily for me, it was a legal goal.”
The tally was Johnson's second goal of the season, and he now has points in three of the last four games (two goals and an assist).
Avs defensemen now have four goals and 16 points through the first 10 games this year after scoring only five goals in 48 games last season.
Johnson said head coach Patrick Roy deserves a lot of the credit for the defense's offense so far.
“Well some of it is just bounces, some of it is luck," he said. "A lot of it is Patrick instilling the confidence in us to go out there and jump in on the rush and make plays, believe in yourself. I think he started preaching that at the beginning of the season and everyone has just had that air of confidence in their game and trusting their abilities, and he’s instilled that in everyone and it has made a big difference.”
For Johnson, his status from Thursday to Friday went from doubtful to a game-time decision to being in the lineup.
After being hit by the puck during Wednesday's practice, Johnson went to team doctors later in the day where all test results came back negative.
He was held out of Thursday's practice and Roy said afterwards that he was "doubtful" for the game against the Hurricanes.
However, Johnson practiced during the club's morning skate Friday and wanted to try and play in the contest.
"He wants to give it a try tonight. We'll know more at game time," Roy said on Friday morning. "Like I said to him, 'I know you want to play,' but if he isn't 100 percent, I would rather have him [sit out]."
Johnson must have felt 100 percent because he played in the first minute of the game and finished with 21:09 of ice time, the second most among defensemen.
He wasn't a liability on the ice either, as he didn't seem to be suffering from any negative effects from the foot injury. Johnson had three shots in the first period and added two blocked shots later in the game.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
His teammates did what they could to help Matt Duchene get his third goal of the game, but the Avalanche center's final shots all went just a bit wide of the empty net.
Duchene still had a great night as he had two goals and an assist against the Hurricanes. It was the 10th three-point game of his career and his first of the season. His last three-point night came last season at Phoenix when he had three assists (April 26, 2013).
Both of his tallies Friday were of the 'beautiful shot' variety.
His first was at 17:33 of the first period when he spun around behind the net, rolled out to the right side and slipped the puck between the Carolina goalie's legs to make it a 2-0 game. His second came on the power play where he made his way to the middle of the slot and lifted a wrist shot top shelf to give the Avs a 4-1 lead.
"We had a good power play going," Duchene said of his second goal. "We had a lot of chances and could of scored right before. [Andre Benoit] put one through the crease on the other side and I was able to just walk in and get a shot off and it found the net."
It was Duchene's third multi-point game and the second two-goal effort of the season. He leads the team in goals (8) and points (12).
TESTING CAROLINA EARLY
The Avalanche had three days to think of its slow start Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins where they had four shots in the first period and had only 10 more the rest of the game.
Colorado surpassed that number in the first period Friday against the Hurricanes, as it fired 18 pucks on Carolina goaltender Justin Peters in the first 20 minutes.
The Hurricanes dressed their two minor-league netminders against the Avalanche as their primary starter Cam Ward suffered a lower-body injury the night before in Minnesota and usual backup Anton Khudobin had missed the previous four games with a similar injury.
Peters replaced Ward in Thursday's game and let in two goals on the first two shots he faced.
The Avalanche was hoping to do the same Friday but wasn't going to be fooled by Peters, who made 19 saves and ended up finishing with a solid outing against the Wild.
"I grew up playing against Justin Peters and know first hand that he is very good goalie," said Avs forward Jamie McGinn before the game. "We have to take it like any other game. Maybe test him early, get pucks towards his feet early and make sure he is in the game as well."
Colorado did what it wanted against Peters and the Canes in the first period. The Avs outshot the visitors 18-8 and scored two goals, one on a deflection off of Johnson and the other from a close shot by Duchene that went five hole.
PENALTY-KILL SUCCESS CONTINUES
Colorado killed off all three Carolina power plays in the game and has now gone 31 of 34 in shorthanded situations this season.
The Avs have the NHL's No. 1 ranked penalty kill unit at 91.2 percent. Washington is the next closest team at 88.2 percent (30-for-34).
Colorado was coming off a great PK game Monday where it held Pittsburgh scoreless on seven power-play chances, which was the first time the Avs had gone 7-for-7 or better on the PK since Nov. 30, 2009 at Tampa Bay (also 7-for-7).
The Avs went the first five games this year without allowing a power-play goal, the longest streak to begin a season in franchise history.
This success while shorthanded isn't anything new for Colorado, as it had the best NHL home penalty kill percentage last season at 91.3 percent (84-for-92).
-The Avalanche improved to 9-1-0, matching its best start through 10 games in franchise history…The Nordiques also went 9-1-0 in their first 10 games of the 1994-95 season, while the Avalanche recorded 18 points (8-0-2) through its opening 10 contests in 2000-01.
-Colorado sits alone atop the league standings with 18 points…The Avalanche’s nine wins also lead the league.
-Colorado has won nine straight home games against Carolina and is 9-0-2 (9 wins, 2 ties) in its last 11 home games vs. the Canes…The last time Carolina won a game in Denver they were the Hartford Whalers on Feb. 9, 1996 at McNichols Sports Arena.
-All-time, the Avalanche/Nordiques are 70-43-22 against the Hurricanes/Whalers, which is their most wins against any NHL franchise.
-The Avs are 6-1-0 versus Eastern Conference teams this season.
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