The field for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was announced during the Avalanche’s game against Ottawa on Sunday, so it’s rather appropriate that a couple of “snubs” helped the Avs win another road game.
Two players who garnered little interest across the NHL last offseason played important roles in the Avs’ 21st road win of the season (21-9-2) and have been key contributors all year in Colorado’s historic run.
Benoit played the past two seasons with this Ottawa team but was left to walk last summer as a free agent.
He signed with the Avs (44-19-5) in July and is in the midst of a career-best season, having now accounted for a career-high in goals (six) and points (24).
His sixth goal came at 15:49 of the second period and finished a 3-on-2 break for the Avs. Patrick Bordeleau (fourth assist) fed him a perfect saucer pass in the slot, and Benoit got it past Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner to give the Avs a 1-0 lead.
Matt Duchene had the initial assist on the play to set a single-season career high with 41 helpers. He then pushed that number to 42 with an assist on Holden’s score.
“It was a good breakout, and I was able to join the rush,” Benoit said. “Bordy made a good find up top, and I was able to get a good shot off. It was a good play.
“You always want to play [well] against an old club, and it’s definitely nice to get one.”
Holden also was a Colorado free-agent defenseman acquisition in July after playing two games with Columbus last season and five with the Blue Jackets during the 2010-11 season. He played his way into the Avs’ plans this year with a terrific September training camp, and his rebound backhand Sunday off a Jamie McGinn shot was his seventh goal this season.
Holden hadn’t scored any NHL goals prior to this year, and his offense and that of Benoit and other Avalanche blue-liners has given the Avs’ 38 goals from D-men this year after they got five from them last year.
“We like to see our [defensemen] go into the offense,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said, “and Andre made a great play, jumping into the play, and I thought that was a really nice play by Bordy and nice shot by [Benoit] as well.
“I think the fact that we play as a unit of five helps us a lot, and our [defense] has the freedom to go in the offense, and our forwards do a good job staying back for them.”
Mika Zibanejad’s goal with six seconds left in the third period was his 12th of the season and kept Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov from earning his first shutout of the year.
Varlamov has put together one of the best seasons from a netminder in Avalanche history, but he’s only kept the opponent off the board one time. He came into the year with 11 career shutouts, including seven in two previous seasons for the Avs.
Zibanejad’s slapshot from the point came off a centering pass from Erik Karlsson and got through a crowd in front of the crease, including Ottawa’s Clarke MacArthur. It zipped past Varlamov on the glove side and put Ottawa on the board.
“We were all a little [ticked] off to see that happen,” Roy said. “[Varlamov] played so well. The guys mentioned for the last two, three minutes they wanted to get the shutout for Varly, but [Ottawa] made a great play."
It was the only pockmark in the game for Varlamov, who finished with 38 saves and improved to 34-13-5, moving to within six of Roy for the franchise record for wins in a single season.
“Huge credit to Varly for this win tonight,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, that last goal there that they scored with six seconds left, we certainly wish we could have had that one back, especially for him, because he played so well for us tonight, and he’s played great all year.
“It feels good when you’ve got Varly in the net. You know you’ve got a chance every night even when we don’t have our best.”
» Paul Stastny (back injury) was out of the lineup again for the fourth straight game, and he remains day-to-day. He hasn’t played since the first shift of the Avalanche’s game against St. Louis on March 8.
» Colorado has won seven straight against the Senators, with Ottawa's last victory in the series coming Dec. 12, 2005 at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche/Nordiques are 26-11-4 all-time against the Sens.
» The Avs will next play again on Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens, whom they defeated 4-1 on Nov. 2. The game will be Roy’s first as a coach against Montreal, which he backstopped to Stanley Cup championships in 1986 and 1993.
“I haven’t looked forward to that game at all," Roy said. "Now I’m going to think about it, but before that I was not really focusing on this. I’ve been talking to our players that I want a partnership with them, I want us to focus on what we have to do every night and take it one day at a time. I have to do the same thing as them.
"Now, we’re going to enjoy tonight’s win and we’re going to start preparing for Montreal. I have a lot of respect for the Montreal organization, and I have a lot of respect for the fans in Montreal. They were a big part of my career—my 10 years there [were] outstanding—and now that we’re going to play them I’m just going to try and approach it as a hockey game.”
» With 64 overall points this season, Duchene is just three short of equaling his career best in scoring (67 in 2010-11).
» The Avs have won seven of their past nine games (7-2-0) and are 21-8-1 in their past 30 games, going back to Dec. 31. The Avalanche improved Sunday to 21-9-2 away from Pepsi Center this year (.688), adding to their first 20-road-win season since 2006-07 (22). Its 44 wins overall this season are its most since 2009-10 (43). The last time Colorado reached 44 wins was 2007-08. The Avs' 43 victories equal their most through 67 games in franchise history.
“I think we just try to play the same way we play at home,” said John Mitchell, who scored at 17:02 of the third for his third goal in four games. “We want to play with speed; we want to be physical; we want to chip pucks in. It wasn’t the prettiest effort by us tonight, but we stuck with it, we chipped away, and we got the win.”
» Benoit’s score continued the Avalanche’s streak of scoring at least one goal in every game so far this season. Its 68-game goal streak to start a season is eight more than the franchise’s previous best (60, 1997-98).
» Colorado improved to 34-2-3 when scoring first (.910) and 32-0-2 (.971) when leading after two periods.
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