With his team trailing by one Wednesday night and with a little more than 15 minutes to play, Matt Duchene intercepted a Nashville pass right before the Avs’ blue line and took off toward the Predators goal.
He sped down the Pepsi Center ice, pulling even with Predators defensemen Kevin Klein and Roman Josi, before getting separation with a burst of speed that’s quickly becoming one of his hockey signatures. He then pushed the puck slightly to his right to guard against a stick poke and waited for Nashville goalie Carter Hutton to make a move.
Hutton did, choosing left, and Duchene slyly moved the puck back across the ice and the top of the crease before flicking it into the top of the netting.
Just like that, it seemed Colorado was going to do it again and win for the 13th time in 14 chances this season. Duchene’s score tied the game at 4-4 with 15:37 to play and shifted the game’s momentum after the Avs found themselves down 4-2 midway through the second period.
The Predators put the clamps on the rest of the way, though, and scored two more goals, including an empty-netter, to leave Denver with a Central Division win.
“They are a good team, they have some good offensive power,” said Duchene, who also had two assists to notch his second three-point game of the season. “I find it’s either a game like that, or it’s 1-0, 2-1—there’s no happy medium with them. They have a lot of skill and were well coached tonight. They had a good game plan against us. We didn’t quite have the killer instinct we’ve had all season, and it cost us a little bit tonight.”
Colorado had a chance to notch another milestone with a victory. A win would have matched Colorado with the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators as the only teams in the history of the NHL to win 13 of their first 14 games.
Looks like they’ll have to “settle” for 12-2.
“As much as I wish to be [81-1], it’s a bit tough,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “[Nashville] is a good team. They’re very good on defense, like I said before the game, but, hey, it’s a nice way for us to learn.”
Roy said he was pleased with his team’s comeback effort, again showing resilience on a night where it clearly didn’t have its best game. He often talks about his players worrying about things they can control, though, and once Duchene scored past a sprawling Hutton, Roy said he thought the game was there for whichever team managed and controlled the final clock ticks of regulation.
Game management is something he’s often discussed as one of the tenets of his coaching philosophy, and it’s one of those controllable things he knows his players can take on.
Wednesday night’s game got away from Colorado on more than one occasion, and Roy and his assistant coaches will use it as a teaching tool.
“There’s times where—I guess because we finished 29th last year—there’s things that we need to learn,” Roy said. “It was a 4-4 game, a division game, [and] I thought we had to bring it at least to overtime. We didn’t have to force plays, and I thought we forced plays at the wrong time.
“I just think we need to manage our game better. We didn’t play as well in the first period. Instead just to play simple, we were forcing things, and unfortunately for us it cost us the game tonight.”
Before Wednesday, Colorado hadn’t surrendered six goals in a game since a 6-4 loss to Minnesota last spring (March 16, 2013).
On the face of it, it might be easy to throw all that on goaltender Semyon Varlamov, but defensive placing throughout the first and second period just seemed a bit “off” for Colorado, and Roy said as much in his postgame news session.
Aside from a Paul Gaustad second-period goal that hit Varlamov’s pads before trickling across the goal line, Nashville had a lot of open looks at Varlamov, and it capitalized on many of those chances.
“We didn’t play well defensively tonight,” Roy said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. [Varlamov] was fighting out there. I’m sure he would love to have the third one back, but I thought the goals he gave up [were] not his fault. We didn’t play as well as normal, as a unit of five in front of him.”
Some of the reason for that out-of-character play could be attributed to a scrambled defensive group.
Colorado played much of the game with just five defensemen after Ryan Wilson left in the first period with a back injury. It then played much of the third period with just four defenders after Erik Johnson ended the second period with a 10-minute misconduct penalty after the officials deemed he threw his stick into the stands.
Roy said he’s not sure the extent of Wilson’s injury, and he didn’t want to comment further. But he doesn’t think it’s serious. As for Johnson’s absence … he’s not quite sure.
“I don’t know the rule to be honest with you,” Roy said. “[Johnson] put the stick in the stands, and they gave him a 10. I guess it’s an automatic call. I have no idea about that rule, and I’m certainly not going to argue about that.”
Colorado’s defense struggled Wednesday night.
Varlamov couldn’t rescue his team as he had done multiple times this year.
The Avs penalty-kill unit, at times, just looked “off.”
Those staples of defense, goaltending and PK play had carried the Avalanche to wins in all but one of its 13 games this season, but they weren’t on display against Nashville. Colorado has 48 hours and a practice and morning skate scheduled to figure out where they went.
“Tonight was kind of a weird game there for awhile,” PA Parenteau said. “We had our chances. Even though we didn’t play our best game, I think we were still in the game, especially when Matt (Duchene) tied it up.
“Like I said before: I made a mistake on their winning goal, and we have to learn from it as a team and move on and go get the win Friday.”
In a study of a very small sample size—one instance, actually—the Avs have proven to be a group not to let a defeat fester. Their only other loss of the year came at home against Detroit after they had won six straight games to start the season.
They responded with another six-game win streak, which was halted Wednesday against the Predators.
“It’s a team loss, as simple as that,” Roy said. “We came back three times, which is something I was pleased with. … I thought we were resilient. We didn’t have our best game, but I thought we did some good stuff out there.
“I guess the question that people probably have is, ‘How are we going to bounce back on Friday against Calgary?’ That’s the question. We’re all curious to see that.”
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