Chances. The Avalanche had many of them Saturday afternoon at Pepsi Center. And they were good chances, too. Open net, screened goalie, one-on-one—the whole bag.
But only one of them resulted in a goal horn. Only PA Parenteau’s putback with 8:57 left in the third period elicited the mashup of music and sound and clapping and cheering that always follows rubber pucks hitting NHL twine.
That was the story of this Avs’ 2-1 loss to St. Louis.
After ending on the wrong side of a pair of lopsided Blues victories in November, the Avalanche put some action behind its statements from 24 hours prior and laid claim as a worthy addition to any discussion on teams capable of winning this year’s Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche players and their head coach, Patrick Roy, said Friday they had grown as a team since the fall and wanted to provide evidence Saturday afternoon that the first two games in this season series (7-3 and 4-1 wins for St. Louis) weren’t indicative of the type of team they knew they were.
The Blues (43-14-6, 92 points) now lead the Western Conference’s Central Division by four points—and the Avs by five points—but the gap between them and the Avalanche (41-18-5, 87) has closed considerably.
Colorado’s biggest obstacle Saturday? Lady Luck. She just wouldn’t budge.
“I really liked our game,” Roy said. “I think we showed a lot of good things out there. It was a lot different than the last two times we played these guys. We were physical; we had some good body check. It was a good game.
“We beat Detroit (on Thursday), but I thought we played better tonight than we played Detroit. Sometimes unfortunately you’re not always rewarded for the way you play and your effort. I thought we had better chances than them. I thought we deserved to win as much as they did.”
Jan Hejda came within an inch or so from tying the game at 1-1 late in the second period when his blast from the point flew past Blues goalie Ryan Miller and squarely dinged against the Blues’ left goalpost.
In the first period Ryan O’Reilly took a centering pass in the Blues zone and spun through some traffic and to just in front of the crease before losing puck control at the last minute.
Gabriel Landeskog had tries go awry in each of the second and third periods. He had a shot hit the cross bar at 13:48 of the second period seconds before St. Louis jumped ahead 1-0. He then found himself with the puck and in a one-on-one situation against Miller with about six minutes to play in the third, but he lost his balance and fell to his knees before throwin it against Miller.
It almost went in.
“Even though I was on my knees, I think I should have been able to pick a corner,” Landeskog said before he let his shoulders slump in frustration. “I don’t know. I hit him right in the head, and he didn’t have to move too much on that one. I’ll have nightmares on that one.
“We know that every point is crucial for where you’re going to end up in the standings. I think we have been playing well lately, and we’re going to keep that going.”
Parenteau himself had a side-of-the-net chance on a rebound late in the third period, but the puck met him too close to his skates, and he wasn’t able to get his stick on it. If he would have the game clearly would have been tied.
“To be honest with you, we are a different team than we were the last two times we played them,” Landeskog said. “We’ve grown as a group and matured together, and I think we showed that tonight. Like I said, we had enough scoring chances and should’ve capitalized on it. They got away with this one, but we’ll remember it.”
Saturday’s loss was just the second since the Olympic break for Colorado (41-18-5, 87 points), but it snapped a four-game winning streak and gave St. Louis (43-14-6, 92) a nice cushion in the Central Division standings.
This wasn’t a make-or-break game for the Avs, by any means, but the carrot dangling in front of them at the opening face-off was pretty enticing. The Avalanche would have moved into second in the Central with a victory and been just a point behind St. Louis.
Just another chance that was missed.
“It’s a game of inches,” Matt Duchene said. “We have three goal posts [hit]—nothing to be ashamed of tonight. We lost Pauly (Paul Stastny) early, and we had guys step up and battle hard. It was a heck of a hockey game all around. I think fans got their money’s worth. We sent a message that we are a lot stronger than the last time they played us.”
The Avs’ trailed 2-0 with a little more than 11 minutes to play in the third period when Parenteau cashed in an opportunity off a Matt Duchene spin-and-shoot from the right side of the net.
Blues forward Steve Ott got tied in knots on the play before Duchen put the puck on Miller that bounced off his pads and out into the slot. Parenteau threw his stick at Miller’s missed rebound and got it to slide through Miller’s pads.
The goal was Parenteau’s 14th of the season and put the Avalanche right back into the game.
“It could have [gone] either way tonight,” Parenteau said, “but I’m happy with the way the guys competed.”
Paul Stastny was in the Avs’ starting lineup, but he took a hit in St. Louis’ zone about 30 seconds into the game and didn’t return after retreating to the dressing room.
He initially centered a line with Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, so Roy was pressed into some immediate, early-game lineup maneuvers. MacKinnon played the rest of the game in Stastny’s center spot alongside a rotation of wingers.
The Avs have a scheduled day off Sunday, and Roy said more should be known Monday on the extent of Stastny’s injury.
“You miss a big piece of your team obviously (with Stastny out),” Duchene said. “So, that’s disappointing, but we didn’t hang our heads, we just moved forward. Guys stepped up and played a great game in his absence.”
» MacKinnon’s NHL-record points streak for an 18-year-old (13 games) ended at 13 games, but Duchene and O’Reilly continued their streaks with assists on Parenteau’s goal.
Duchene is now on a career-high, seven-game point streak (three goals, eight assists), and O’Reilly has points in six straight games (three goals, seven assists), one shy of a career high.
Both players have assists in six straight games, too, which is also a career high. They are the first Avs players to record assists in six consecutive games since John-Michael Liles had a nine-game assist streak from Oct. 7 to 26, 2010.
» The pace of the game was quick from the outset, and intensity was high in the first 20 minutes especially. The Avalanche led St. Louis 18-5 in hits after the first period and ended with a 32-20 advantage in hits.
» The Avs fell to 21-5-4 in “weekend” games this season, including an 8-1-1 mark in Friday games, 10-3-2 on Saturday and 3-1-1 on Sunday. The Avs are 2-1-1 in day games this season and 2-1 at home.
» The Avalanche had won eight straight home games against St. Louis before this season but has now lost two straight. Overall, the Avs are 11-6-1 in their past 18 games against St. Louis, dating to December 2009.
» The Avalanche outshot St. Louis 27-25 and fell to 13-11-1 this season when outshooting an opponent. For what it’s worth, Colorado is 27-6-3 when being outshot.
“It was a physical game, [with] a lot of scoring chances,” Landeskog said. “It was a lot of fun. We’re not going to dwell on this one at all. We’re just going to put this one behind us. I think we played a solid game; just ended up coming up short.”
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