NEWARK, N.J. - It's such a simple concept; when a puck comes on your stick and you're a man short as a team, get it out of your zone. Whack it, hack it, slap it, thwap it - do whatever it damn well takes to get it out of your zone. So why, after two games, do members of the Colorado Avalanche not seem to understand this?
Jared Bednar sure as heck would like an answer to this question. The exasperation on the Avalanche coach's face was profound when asked why his team has allowed five power-play goals after 120 minutes of hockey so far. Why, for instance, are his players dipsy-doodling with the puck with time and space to get it out of the zone on the PK? Why are players trying to skate past the blue line with the puck, instead of just sending it down the river?
If you can't kill penalties, especially in a league where referees are calling just about everything right now, you won't win hockey games. The Avs got away with that on opening night against the New York Rangers, but not in Game 2 Saturday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils.
The Avs allowed three more goals while short-handed, and got scored on during a power play of its own, in losing 4-1 to the Devils at the Prudential Center.
Here's how Bednar described what the problem is right now on the PK: "We certainly made some mistakes in the first game, a lot of them. But for me, it starts with our clears. We had the puck on our tape I don't know how many times, at least four or five times in the first period, and we didn't even get it past the blue line. You've got to take the extra second to get your feet moving, get your body around it and use your forehand to get it down the length of the ice. And moving on to the second period, our first penalty kill didn't get it down twice and then it's 45 more seconds in our zone and it ends up in the back of the net. You can't kill penalties in this league when you're exhausted. It's pretty simple for me: we've got to clean up some of the details but when you get the puck on your tape you've got to make sure it's down the ice."
Jonathan Bernier wasn't to blame for this one. He stopped 35-of-39 shots, including a brilliant, diving glove save on Damon Severson right on the goal line in the second period.
He gave his team a chance to win, as the Avs were down only 2-1 with the clock under a minute to go in the second period, after Carl Soderberg (probably the Avs' best skater in this one) scored on the PP to cut a 2-0 lead in half.
"Sometimes, a save like that can serve as a catalyst for the rest of the team," Bernier said.
But then the game took a dark turn for the Avs. Going to play a puck against the Devils' Kyle Palmieri, Erik Johnson went to hit him. Leaning in with his shoulder, Palmieri tried to get out of the way, but in the process his right knee collided against Johnson's knee. He limped off the ice and Johnson headed to the penalty box for kneeing - even though the referee didn't raise his arm until noticing Palmieri was hurt.
Jesper Pratt scored from the right circle, with just under 30 seconds left, after forward Tyson Jost was caught way out of position high in the zone. That was pretty much the hockey game. The Avs did get some chances in the third - plenty actually, including on a four-minute power play, but New Jersey got a short-handed goal with six minutes left. After Matt Duchene hit the backboard with a shot, the rebound came out to Nail Yakupov on the other side. Yakupov whiffed on the shot, leading to an odd-man rush that Moore finished off while Yakupov was too slow on the backcheck.
Johnson, whose hit may draw some supplemental discipline from the league (but I doubt it), explained the sequence like this:
The Avs will have a day of practice Sunday at Boston University. Maybe at a place of higher learning can the Avs learn how to kill a penalty at a basic level. Otherwise, it's gonna be another long year.
Jost was moved up from the fourth line, replacing Colin Wilson on a line with Gabe Landeskog and J.T. Compher. If Sven Andrighetto keeps staying quiet on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Jost could be a likely replacement there too.
Nathan MacKinnon had his second straight game of frustration. He just hasn't been getting many chances. The same pretty much applies to captain Gabe Landeskog. MacKinnon only had one shot on net, same as Landeskog, and slammed his stick against the bench a couple of times at the ends of shifts. Asked if he's frustrated with his own game right now, MacKinnon had a very concise "No." But it's clear Bednar is frustrated, with him and his whole line. "That line was quiet. For me, too light, too quiet. It's got to be more competitive," Bednar said.
Some guy named Will Butcher had three assists in the game. Yeah, the former DU defender got the first laugh against the team he spurned this summer. All three points came on the power play.
Nikita Zadorov made his season debut, playing 19:12. He took an interference penalty that got his team off to a slow start in the second period. But he looked pretty decent at even strength for the most part.
Mark Barberio, Andrei Mironov and Matt Nieto were the healthy scratches.
I bumped into Claude Lemieux after the game. He is the agent for newly-acquired Avs D-man Patrik Nemeth.