(BSN Denver’s Jesse Montano obtained quotes and other material for the following story from the game in Sweden)
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The opportunity was there for the Colorado Avalanche’s best players to prove this was their team now, that the trade of Matt Duchene was the best thing for them as a team. The opportunity was right there against Duchene’s new team, too, the Ottawa Senators.
Instead, the Avs’ best players pretty much all laid an egg in the first two games of the post-Duchene era, most especially in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Senators at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. While Duchene did not officially get any points in the two-game NHL Global Series, he was on the ice for the game-winning goal by Mike Hoffman with 6:37 to play, just 10 seconds after a horrific turnover and resulting tripping penalty by Avs defenseman Mark Barberio.
Skating the puck out of the Avs’ zone with plenty of time and space, Barberio got stripped of the puck and was forced to take the tripping minor. The Avs had killed three straight previous penalties, barely, but a fourth time was asking just too much. Duchene set up a play down low to Mark Stone, whose crossing pass to the right circle was initially broken up by the stick of Avs D-man Chris Bigras. But Bigras, who was off his skates and not in a good forehand position to play the puck, backhanded the puck right on to Hoffman’s stick for an easy tap-in against Jonathan Bernier.
All weekend, penalties hurt the Avs, who were outshot a combined 72-37 in the two games.
“It definitely cost us,” said Alexander Kerfoot, who was, by far, the Avs’ best forward in the two games. “It’s hard to create anything when you’re down a man. It ruins the flow of the game.”
Kerfoot helped set up Sven Andrighetto’s goal that gave the Avs a 3-2 lead at 10:36 of the second period, a lead they took into the third. Ottawa coach Guy Boucher, who was the better coach in this series by far as well, pulled Mike Condon for Craig Anderson after Andrighetto’s goal and the Senators seemed to relax and play their game the rest of the way.
Not so with the Avs in front of Bernier, who while he made some good stops as part of his 36-save performance, gave up a brutal, bouncing goal to Hoffman at the start of the second period, wiping out a 1-0 lead built by Blake Comeau’s first-period short-handed goal.
Bernier also allowed a long, short-side shot by veteran Johnny Oduya to beat him early in the third, wiping out another one-goal lead the Avs had – a theme for the weekend.
The Avs’ top line, of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen did nothing all day, combining for zero points and four shots on net. Other no-show forwards on the weekend included J.T. Compher, Gabriel Bourque, Matt Nieto, Rocco Grimaldi and Colin Wilson.
“There were some plays, especially in the second period, where we passed up on some shots,” said Bednar, who, in fairness, had to go with kind of a patchwork lineup with injuries and absences to some key guys, such as Carl Soderberg and Tyson Jost.
The fact that the Avs never seemed to play with a lot of grit or passion, save for a few moments here and there, was the most disappointing takeaway on the weekend. Whenever Ottawa seemed to need a big play, their top guys made them happen. When the Avs needed some clutch offense, especially late in the game Saturday? Players such as Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen just weren’t there.
On the positive side? Samuel Girard already looks like a future star. The 19-year-old D-man created time and space for himself pretty much anytime he wanted with the puck.
“He was outstanding,” Bednar said.
Now, the Avs will make the long journey back home, with the next game not until Thursday against Washington. It’ll seem like a longer flight now, after what has to be classified as a wasted opportunity of a weekend.