Jan Hejda is usually a man of few words. He’s a quiet guy, on and off the ice, and he usually lets his play and work ethic do his talking.
That said, the Avalanche’s third-year Czech defenseman was more succinct than usual Thursday when asked to characterize his team’s play in the first period Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.
“The last game was terrible,” Hejda said of Colorado’s first 20 minutes two nights ago at Madison Square Garden. “We lost that game in the first period. We have to regroup and just play our game, which I believe we are strong enough to do.”
Seems like the Avs’ approach leading up to tonight’s game against Philadelphia (5 p.m. MT; Altitude; Altitude Radio Network) is to focus on what it does well and not on what it did not do well Tuesday.
Colorado (36-15-5) just didn’t play well out of the gate, and that lag followed it throughout the rest of the game. The Avalanche trailed 2-0 on the scoreboard and was behind 20-4 in shots before the first intermission.
A Gabriel Landeskog goal about six minutes into the second period provided a bit of relief, but the Rangers responded with three more scores.
The Avalanche entered the game 32.1 shots per game, while New York came in with an average of 32.5 shots attempted per game. Both averages didn’t hold up. The Rangers ended up unleashing 43 tries at Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Colorado has allowed 40 or more shots on goal seven times this season, but interestingly enough, has won five of those games and lost one in a shootout. Tuesday’s game against the Rangers is the only one of those seven that resulted in a regulation loss (5-1-1).
“As embarrassed as we were, we didn’t play very well,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “Sometimes you can laugh that off and say you had an off day and you have to rebound the next one. For us as a group, we’re mad about it, we’re angry about it, and you learn from it, and you just don’t let it affect you going forward. You throw it in the garbage and learn what you can do differently.”
That’s the good news for Colorado as it turns its attention toward tonight and the Flyers (28-23-6): The Avalanche, which knocked off Philadelphia 2-1 on Jan. 2, has a full season of success to look upon and knows its game Tuesday is clearly an outlier.
There’s no reason to panic here.
“We didn’t have the greatest start against New York last game, so we certainly want to come out and have a stronger game,” forward John Mitchell said. “[The Flyers] are similar in the sense they like to buzz around the net and get pucks around there, and obviously they like to play in our end rather than their own.
“I think that’s the key to our game, is keep our systems in check and make sure we do our Xs and Os right. I think we’ll be fine.”
Tonight’s game against Philadelphia is the third on this four-game road trip for the Avalanche, with Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders set to cap the trip and send Colorado into the 2014 Winter Olympics break. Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Semyon Varlamov will all depart directly from New York for Sochi, Russia, where preliminary games are expected to begin next week.
So, there’s a bit of distraction looming over these next two games for Colorado. How well they wave that off and focus on the task at hand will determine how much of a reflective break the team will be able to take, starting Sunday.
The thought of going into the league’s two-and-a-half week hiatus with a couple more losses to chew on like Tuesday’s seems to be all the motivation this group needs.
“I think we’d really like to get to 80 points (they have 77) and give ourselves a good lead and an opportunity to come back from break feeling good about ourselves and where we are in the standings,” Mitchell said. “It certainly is important for us to play well and get some points in these next two games before the break.
“With the Olympic break and the time off, that gives certain guys, obviously, a lot of time to rest and heal up and get better with any bumps and bruises that they have. I think you certainly have to go into this game [thinking], ‘There’s two games left,’ and play as hard as you can, empty the tank, and you’ll have plenty of time to fill it back up.”
- The Avalanche and Flyers are meeting for the second and final time this season. Colorado won the first matchup 2-1 on Jan. 2 in Denver. The Avs tonight are making their first visit to Philly since Oct. 11, 2010 (a 4-2 Flyers victory).
- Varlamov is slated to start in net for Colorado opposite Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason. Varlamov made 29 saves in the Avs early-January victory against the Flyers and is 28-10-5 on the season, with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Mason gave up both Colorado goals in the teams’ first meeting this season and was pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute. He’s 22-14-5 on the year, with a 2.53 GAA and .915 save percentage.
- Colorado forward Max Talbot and Philadelphia’s Steve Downie were traded for each other earlier this season on Oct. 31. Talbot has five goals and 12 assists since joining the Avalanche. Downie has two goals and 12 points in his time with Philadelphia.
- Landeskog has a seven-game point streak (three goals, six assists), which is one shy of his career-best eight-game streak set earlier this season, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8. Landeskog is the first Avalanche player to have two point streaks of at least seven games in the same season since Andrew Brunette had streaks of 11 and eight games during the 2006-07 season.
- Colorado is 29-1-3 this season when scoring first (.879), the second-best mark in the NHL. The Avs are 22-1-1 when leading after the first period (.917) and 29-0-2 when leading after the second (.935), ranking second in the league in both categories.
“We’re a fast team,” Johnson said Thursday morning. “We’re based off speed. We’re based off transition, off forecheck, so when we’re establishing that and making sure we’re doing a good job off that it makes a big difference. We have some of the fastest forwards in the league. When they’re going everybody else is going. When we use that speed we’re pretty hard to handle.”
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