The Avalanche lost 4-1 to the Panthers on Saturday night in Denver, giving them three straight losses for the first time this season and for the first time since last March.
As a team, Colorado obviously finds itself in a bit of a funk—pucks aren’t bouncing the Avs’ way as they did through much of October and early November, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time penalties seem to be mounting for the club, and injuries have depleted for the short term some of the depth that was a weapon early on.
Individual pieces continue to shine, though.
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon, for example, had a couple of great individual performances last week at Carolina and St. Louis (12 shots – 1 g/1a), and Ryan O’Reilly continued his strong November on Saturday night with a second-period goal that closed a 2-0 gap to 2-1.
O’Reilly, who now has five goals and two assists in the Avs’ past seven games and eight goals and 14 points overall this season, ignited Pepsi Center with a gritty goal up the right wing. His shot found its way past Florida netminder Tim Thomas and hit the netting just before teammate John Mitchell did after getting tripped up in the crease.
It was a highlight-reel goal for O’Reilly, and Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy praised that type of effort in his postgame news conference. He was less pleased with his team’s focus, which seems like it will be a, well, focus Monday when the team reconvenes for practice in Centennial, Colo.
“I hate to lose a game like this in front of our fans,” Roy said. “Our fans deserve better than a game like this from our part.
“I don’t like our focus. I thought that we were not as focused on what we had to do. I guess we were focusing maybe on the result more tonight. We made some poor decisions.”
Forward Cody McLeod and his wife Jessy welcomed their second daughter, Emma, in the wee hours Saturday, but McLeod was at the team’s morning skate and was in the lineup tonight against the Panthers.
Emma joins sister Peyton, who will turn 3 this spring.
“Everybody is doing well, and it actually went pretty smooth,” McLeod said this morning through a wider than usual gap-toothed hockey smile. “Everybody is doing good, and everyone is healthy, so that’s the main thing.”
McLeod has three assists and is plus-4 through 14 games this season. He signed as a minor-league free agent with Colorado in July 2006 and played earlier this season in his 400th NHL game (Oct. 10 at Boston).
Understandably, he said he didn’t get too much sleep last night, but it didn’t stop him from logging 10:11 of ice time in the Avs’ 4-1 loss.
Matt Hunwick started in place of Benoit and played for the Avs for the first time this season after being recalled from Lake Erie (AHL) on Nov. 4. He finished Saturday’s game with two blocks and a hit and a shot in 17:27.
Hunwick has now played in 292 career NHL games, including 78 for Colorado.
“It’s [Hunwick’s] opportunity,” Roy said this morning. “He’s a great person, [and] he works hard. I’m glad for him to have a chance to play tonight, and hopefully things will go well for him. It’s good to see a guy like him having his chance, and hopefully he’ll take advantage of it.”
The top two picks in this summer’s NHL Draft faced off tonight at Pepsi Center for the first time when the Avs’ Nathan MacKinnon (first overall) and the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov (second) stepped on the ice.
MacKinnon has 12 points (3g/9a) in 19 games, while Barkov has eight points (4g/4a) in 21 games.
Also playing Saturday night were two of the top picks from the 2011 draft in Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog (second in 2011) and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau (third).
Landeskog has scored 37 goals and notched 47 assists (84 points) in his time with Colorado, including six goals and nine assists this season. Huberdeau scored in the Panthers’ win and has 19 goals and 23 assists (42 points) since Florida chose him in 2011 behind Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (27g/62a), who went first overall to Edmonton.
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