February 14, 2016 Game 59
First Niagara Center Buffalo, New York
The Colorado Avalanche haven't played a good hockey game in weeks. This isn't an opinion, just a fact. Despite winning at both Detroit and Ottawa a few days ago, they still won almost entirely because of their goaltending. When they took the ice against the Buffalo Sabres, it was with limited expectations that a team playing it's third game in three and a half days would come out strong.
What actually transpired was pretty predictable for all involved. For some reason, Semyon Varlamov got the start after playing both games of the back-to-back and his early game performance was another example of why you manage goaltenders and not run them into the ground mercilessly. Sabres uber-rookie Jack Eichel would put Buffalo up 1-0 after weaving his way through multiple Avs players and then beating Varlamov with a simple wrist shot just 2:02 into the game.
Not satisfied with that, Varlamov would look completely unprepared as Evander Kane lofted in a weak shot from the point that would beat the Colorado goaltender and make it 2-0 just under five minutes into the game. Avalanche Head Coach Patrick Roy had seen enough and would pull Varlamov from the contest, replacing him with Calvin Pickard.
Pickard's start wasn't much better as Sam Reinhart would deflect a Ryan O'Reilly shot past Pickard at the 17:14 mark of the first period to give Buffalo a commanding 3-0 lead going into the second period despite the Avalanche finally being the dominant team on the shot chart.
The start of the second period would see the Avalanche continue their pushback and a beautiful pass from Mikhail Grigorenko to Erik Johnson would end in Johnson's eighth goal of the season as his backhander beat Sabres goalie Robin Lehner high on the blocker side, making it 3-1 and giving the Avs hope. Colorado would continue owning the majority of possession throughout the period but couldn't crack the Lehner code again and went into the third period trailing by two.
The third period would be an interesting one with plenty of opportunities for the Avalanche to make things interesting but their power play repeatedly failed, including a two minute 5-on-3. Colorado's utter futility on the power play cost them as they couldn't get one past Lehner and an empty net goal would push the final score to 4-1 in favor of Buffalo.
Robin Lehner - 34 saves
Sam Reinhart - 1 goal, 1 assist
Jack Eichel - 1 goal
PLAY OF THE GAME
Reinhart's goal pushed it to 3-0 and more or less put the game out of reach. Tough for the Avs, given they played better throughout.
Kane's soft goal to make it 2-0 would run Varlamov from the game and signal the Avs were in serious trouble today.
BY THE NUMBERS
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"It's kind of funny because we didn't play very well against Detroit. We came up short. I thought today, this afternoon, we had a strong game." -Patrick Roy
The Avalanche played their 59th game today, tied for the league lead, meaning their six point lead over several teams in the playoff race is tenuous at best as the teams chasing them are almost all sitting on 55 games played. Today's loss only further allows the teams behind them to catch up and put all of the good feelings Colorado has accrued in the standings to waste.
In an odd scheduling quirk, the Avalanche have multiple days off before returning to the ice Wednesday night at home versus the Montreal Canadiens. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 PM MST.