Devils vs Avs: An Exorcism Was Had

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The Colorado Avalanche, at home, in Colorado, with one of the most dismal home records I have ever seen them have, blasted the New Jersey Devils into submission with a 6-1 exorcism. It was, hopefully, the game that will finally get the Avs into the winning groove they have needed. The team that played tonight is what Avs fans have wanted all season, and we can only hope that will continue.

Before the game, I will admit that I was not optimistic. It had seemed lately that the Avs had imploded, tuning out their coach and were generally listless and disinterested on the ice. The Avs, as they generally tend to do when I’m completely pessimistic about a win, decided that they were going to come out with all cylinders firing. The first period was wrought with hard hits, great offense (did I really just write those words about the Avs?), sound defense, and Semyon Varlamov showing solid goaltending.

At 7:37 into the first period, the Pepsi Center seemed to explode with screams and cheers as Captain Milan Hejduk, assisted by Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, scored the first goal of the game. This goal, Hejduk’s eighth of the season, was also his first scored since the C was placed on his chest. The Avs were constantly pushing themselves into the Devils zone, playing the puck, and quite frankly refusing to allow the Devils to set up anything effective. Duchene had a very pretty breakaway, then tried to send a backhand into the net past Brodeur… but alas, missed.

The second goal was made by TJ Galiardi, who has for some reason spent quite a bit of time in Coach Sacco’s doghouse (which has humorously contributed to the 4th line being nicknamed the “Doghouse” line by Avs fans), and boy was it what he needed. Galiardi outworked Henrik Tallinder, wrapped around the net, and put the biscuit in the basket while Brodeur looked completely surprised. It was also an unassisted goal, and was TJ’s second of the season. Let’s hope that goal will give him at least a temporary reprieve from the doghouse.

Not long after, Duchene was on the receiving end of a nasty hit, and subsequently Ryan O’Byrne stuck up for his teammate by fighting the Devils Clarkson. O’Byrne received a five minute major, as well an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct. He then went off the ice as his penalties were longer than the minutes left in the period.  The Devils thus went on to have a powerplay, until one of their players was called for interference. With just four seconds left in the four-on-four, Jan Hejda scored the third goal of the game for the Avs, with assists from Duchene and Wilson. As Peter McNab and Mike Haynes were quick to point out, the Avs record for winning when they are up 3 goals is 9-2-1 (and now 10-2-1). The Avs scored their three goals with just five shots.

One thing that I did notice in the first, that I still am not very happy about, is that the passing still seems to be horrendous (so much so that in the second period I wrote in my notes, and I quote: “Avs can’t pass to save their lives; get it together!”).

All in all, I was very impressed with the way the Avs played during the first period… which was quickly to be negated when the second period came around and they seemed to regress to their usual “sitting on a lead” type of play whenever they are up on the scoreboard.

That said, when the second period began, the Avs came out flying, seeming to be determined to continue their lead. However, I began to notice what has seemed to be typical of our forwards – each one so close to each other they could be holding hands. It is rather infuriating to watch, and I found myself yelling at the TV for them to spread out. There were also some moments when Varlamov was out of his crease – which always makes me heart beat faster. I swear, the kid is trying to give me a heart attack some times. Slowly but surely, as the second period progressed, I found myself groaning as the Avs continued to just sit on the lead, playing somewhat lazy, and making stupid mistakes.

And of course, one of those stupid mistakes, by Shane O’Brien, led to Kovalchuk’s goal, which would ultimately be the only one the Devils scored, with 8:57 left.

I won’t write much more about the second, except to say this:

The Devils were beginning to wake up, and while they couldn’t quite handle the Avs’ speed, they also were looking more determined while several Avs players began to display what has become far too characteristic of them: lost and disorganized. I also abhor that “system” of dump and chase. Only during the last few minutes of the second period did the Avs finally seem to have a lightbulb alight above their collected heads and go “OH!”.

Before the third, I was a little worried. I didn’t know what Avs team was going to come out – the one from the first period or the second period. I was hoping for the first, but having seen too many Avs games where the second period team comes out… I was obviously concerned. Luckily for me and other Avs fans, the Avs were determined to show that tonight, at least, they were going to finish as that first period team, and not the lost and disorganized team from the second.

The third period started with 1:17 PK for the Avs after Kyle Quincey had slashed Kovalchuk in the second. As they did in the first, the Avs put a lot of pressure on the Devils, and prevented them from doing anything effectively. 2:47 into the period, Ryan O’Reilly scores after picking up a bounce off Hejduk’s skate as Captain O Captain crashed into one of the Devils’ players and shooting the puck past Brodeur. As the time continued to tick down, the Avs were back, playing hard and with determination. After too many games this season and last where they haven’t, it was very refreshing to see. The fifth goal of the game came during a penalty kill for the Avs when Quincey had a break away, passing it to “JMac” who then slammed the puck past Brodeur’s glove side for a short-handed goal. Fun stat (although I’m sure not so fun for the Devils and their fans): the Devils have given up 6 short-handed goals. Ouch.

Things were getting a bit chippy at that point as the Devils were understandably frustrated, however the Avs kept up the good play. The PK has been amazingly good, so I was very thankful for that as the Devils took another powerplay when Ryan O’Byrne took a dumb penalty late in the period. But the Devils just couldn’t capitalize on their chances, and Kovalchuk was sent to the box for high-sticking Kobasew, making it 4-4. Finally, for the sixth goal, rookie Stefan Elliott was able to get his second goal in just his third game in the NHL. That kid is here to stay, and Avs fans are very excited about his future.

Avs won, 6-1, which made the home crowd very happy. At the end of the game, the Avs saluted their fans at center ice, which has become a tradition that I quite like. Hope they win more at home so they can do it more. The Avs are 3-3 on this homestand and have two more games remaining, playing St. Louis on Friday and Detroit on Monday.

All in all, there were about forty-five minutes of fantastic Avs hockey where the team worked like a cohesive team, with great offense, defense and goaltending. Fifteen minutes of it, however I could do without. The Avs HAVE to play sixty minutes of hockey, and this was at least one game that showed maybe they are finally on their way. We shall see. Perhaps this 6-1 exorcism will finally rid the Avs of their lack of offense, lack of winning at home demons. It won’t rid them of the coach that many see as inadequate, but one can only do so much, I suppose.

Eleven Avalanche players ended up with points at the end of the night. The Three Stars were as follows:

3: Jan Hejda

2: Ryan O’Reilly

1: Milan Hejduk

One last thing: I hate the song, “The Whip” and absolutely loathe the fact that the Avs have included it in the goal song, but I’ll endure it happily if the Avs score more goals like they did tonight. Till next time, Avs fans.

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