On Friday night at the Pepsi Center, sticks were raised in the air not unlike glasses of champagne during a toast. “Here’s to a brighter future!” would have been the proper caption to a photo of the moment when Avalanche players saluted the crowd, after a youthful lineup beat the playoff-bound St. Louis Blues.
The caption to almost any photo of the Avalanche in action Sunday afternoon might properly have been: “Zzzzzzzzz.”
The Avs gave a Washington Generals-type road performance (look it up, kids) against the Minnesota Wild. Instead of playing spoiler against the much-despised Wild in their barn, the Avs looked like those hot dogs you forgot you had in the back of the fridge from about two years ago. The final, from the Xcel Energy Center, was 5-2.
Any energy the Avs might have gained from the fun shootout victory over St. Louis was lost somewhere in the air between Denver and St. Paul. Colorado came out with a first period straight out of the nap room, with Minnesota grabbing a 2-0 lead before the contest was six minutes old.
Altitude TV analyst and former Av Mark Rycroft was bang-on in his intermission assessment of what went wrong on the Wild’s first goal, scored by Martin Hanzal at 5:04. Failure in hockey is a team effort, but the player deserving of the most scorn on the Hanzal goal, as Rycroft pointed out, was center Carl Soderberg. Watch Ryker’s assessment for more detail:
He’s right, of course. Soderberg played like he expected Barrie to do all the work, instead of driving harder to the net and putting a body on Hanzal. Those kinds of fundamental mistakes have happened too often this season with No. 34, and it’s been a significant factor in the overall failure of the team.
The real killer goal of the game, though, was scored with 20 seconds left in the first period, by Erik Haula. To my way of thinking, this goal was all on goalie Calvin Pickard. The Avs had just cut a 2-0 lead in half on Gabe Landeskog’s 16th goal, expertly set up by rookie J.T. Compher on a 2-on-1 break-in. Get in to the dressing room down by just a goal, despite the 15-5 eventual disparity in shots, and the Avs could have considered themselves fortunate and perhaps drawn newfound enthusiasm for the final 40.
Instead, Pickard fouled things up. Instead of letting a Wild dump-in move around the dasher and probably get corralled by Erik Johnson on the other side, Pickard decided to stop the puck behind the net. No problem with that, but Pickard’s next decision led to chaos, and the puck in the back of the net.
Pickard made a weak, soft end-around clear attempt that was easily intercepted by Mikko Koivu, who fed the puck back in front where it bounced around and was put in by Haula. Johnson, who stopped skating toward the puck when Pickard went to get it, was still in the perfect position to take a stop-pass from Pickard and blast it hard back out the other way. It would have made for a much more difficult recapture attempt for the Wild, and Johnson would have been able to get back to the front of the net easier.
Instead, Johnson was taken totally out of the play by Pickard’s soft end-around. Here’s the play:
Pickard needs to find a way to be stronger on the puck when handling it, or else make smarter decisions with it. After that, the game seemed over. The Avs put up token resistance as the Wild went on to the easy win.
After his brilliance in the late going of Friday’s game, Pickard was no good, stopping just 12 of 16 shots. Matt Duchene went another game without anything on the score sheet, despite a wide-open net sequence in the third period in which Devan Dubnyk got a stick on it and then saw the puck hit the crossbar.
How did Tyson Jost look in Game No. 2? Let’s just say he wasn’t too noticeable, playing nearly 16 minutes with one shot on net. Linemates Rene Bourque and Matt Nieto weren’t too noticeable either.
The Avs came to play Sunday, but in body only. In spirit? Didn’t seem like it.