Game 23 Recap: Skeleton Crew Avalanche 2 Blackhawks 3 - Pickard shines in his second NHL start, but the Avs fall short
Semyon Varlamov, Erik Johnson, Brad Stuart, Ryan Wilson, Jamie McGinn, John Mitchell, Dennis Everberg, Jesse Winchester and Patrick Bordeleau will not be playing tonight.
That's their starting goaltender, half their defense, their entire 3rd line and a few depth guys.
Unfortunately for the Avalanche, no matter how many players are injured, this game was still going to happen, so lets get to it..
The Avalanche forwards seemed keenly aware of their shortcomings on defense when the puck dropped, because they did everything in their power to keep the puck in the Chicago zone. Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Alex Tanguay and Thomas Vincour all made strong plays on the forecheck in the Hawks zone to maintain possession, and Tanguay even had a good shortside chance on Crawford from a bad angle.
On the next shift the MackGinlaSkog line set up in the Hawks zone and Landeskog came out of the corner, attempting to feed Nathan MacKinnon in the slot. MacKinnon was unable to get the puck, but drew a penalty in the process. Based on history, that means the Avs early momentum was about to head in the toilet, but lets give them a chance eh?...
Sure enough the Avalanche gave up a 2 on 1 opportunity just 40 seconds into the power play and forced Pickard to make two big saves on Hossa and then on a Toews rebound. Tyson Barrie hooked Toews to the ice trying to catch up, and wiped out the man advantage. The Avalanche did manage to recover, and played fairly even hockey during the 4-on-4 session, then killed off the Hawks brief power play with ease.
Aside from one good chance by the MacKinnon line on the rush, the next 5:00 of the period saw the ice tilt slightly back in the Blackhawks favor. Pickard made a number of good saves on 2 longer than comfortable Blackhawks possessions, one of which was extended by a weak chip up the boards from Nick Holden. The Avalanche held strong though and made it to the commercial break, and the halfway point in the period. After that? All Blackhawks. All the time. The Avs were running around in their zone, chasing, missing assignments, and watching Pickard bail them out time and time again. Notable turnovers from Talbot, Guenin, Holden, and Duchene saw the Blackhawks extend their shifts in the Avs zone but Pickard made a flurry of saves to keep the game even. After a particularly bad turnover at the blue line, the Hawks had a 4 on 2 rush which saw Marian Hossa ping the puck off the far post and wide. The Avs iced the puck and fans held their breath, realizing just how long a night we're in for.
With just over 5 minutes left in the period, Cody McLeod did his "grit veteran leadership" thing and took a needless, unwarranted penalty away from the play, sending the Avalanche on the penalty kill. The Avalanche did well to kill the Hawks penalty and actually took the best scoring chance of the two minutes for themselves. Early on in the kill, when Seabrook bobbled the puck on the right point and Alex Tanguay took the puck up ice for a breakaway. Unfortunately, a the rolling puck, combined with a ref who couldn't get out of the way slowed up Tanguay, giving him limited room to dangle Crawford out of his jock. Tanguay tried to bait Crawford forward and slide the puck underneath him on the backhand, but Crawford sealed the ice well and stopped the chance.
When the teams returned to even strength, both sides seemed to go into a preventative neutral zone scheme. The action slowed so much that the Hawks announcers were able to explain Karl Stollery's whole life story while mispronouncing his name over and over. Then with a boom flash and a bang Matt Duchene picked up the puck at center ice and exploded through the neutral zone and around Duncan Keith. Keith tripped the Avs center, but not before he slipped a great pass through the neutral zone towards Ryan O'Reilly. The pass was behind O'Reilly, but found Nick Holden on the far point, who took a few steps into the high slot and unleashed a wicked wrist-shot high over Crawford's glove. This was a really great chance and a really great spot for Holden to find himself with the puck alone, a real shame he didn't get the puck on net. The Avalanche gathered up the puck, left the zone and waited out the remainder of the period with possession so as not to split their power play too much. With 2 seconds and change left, the Hawks touched the puck and Keith went to the box. The Avs set up for a shot off the faceoff, but Kruger beat MacKinnon on the draw and the horn sounded. End of one.
All in all it wasn't a terrible period considering the circumstances. The Avalanche played very good hockey in the first 10:00, then let the pendulum swing way too far in the Hawks favor. There were some scary shot chart graphs on twitter at the end of 20:00. As usual with the Blackhawks it was an end to end game with some quality scoring chances on both sides and the Avalanche Pickard managed to weather the storm when the better team took over for a stretch. Shots finished 13-9 Hawks.
The Avalanche started the period with a near full 1:58 power play. Or so the scoreboard said. In the first two minutes of the period the Avalanche did not have a single scoring chance. The power play reaches new lows every night. After the power play expired, and the Hawks had one good shift in the Avs zone, Colorado started to get some more consistent offense going, mostly on the stick of Zach Redmond. On one particularly dangerous shift, Redmond fired a seeing eye shot through traffic and left a rebound in front, where Iginla narrowly missed getting the puck for an easy tap in. Moments later Redmond fired another shot up high on Crawford and handcuffed the goalie. Crawford lost sight of the puck, which dropped between his legs, but the Hawks cleared it before Landeskog or MacKinnon could get a stick on it.
A few seconds later, as the Hawks tried to clear their zone, Tyson Barrie crosschecked Hossa as he was trying to grab a puck out of the air, sending the Avalanche back on the penalty kill. This PK featured another shorthanded opportunity for Alex Tanguay, who drove up ice with the help of Ryan O'Reilly and, after taking a pass from O'Reilly, dangled through three Hawks players towards the net. Unfortunately he ran out of real estate and couldn't release much of a shot. The Hawks had a few decent chances on the power play, but frustrated by Calvin Pickard's solid play, decided they needed to get the puck in the net via new unconventional methods, aka lifting the back and slipping the puck under. The officials and the video replay were not convinced despite Shaw's half hearted celebration so on we go.
Then, on a nothing chip play into the Hawks zone, Marc Andre Cliche heard that I was on recap duty tonight and decided to make one of the best offensive plays of his entire career, chasing the puck to the corner and sending a no look backhand pass to Max Talbot in the crease. Talbot snapped the puck past Crawford and gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead nearly 8:00 into the period. The pass from Cliche was seriously incredible, no matter who made it. Good work dude.
The game got considerably more frantic in the minutes following the Avs breakthrough goal, which frankly, never goes well for the Hawks against the Avalanche. The more the Hawks committed and tried to push the pace, the more they saw the puck headed back towards their net with speed. First the Avs disrupted a Hawks zone entry and sprung Daniel Briere for a new breakaway. Briere made a good move but realizing that the moment was not clutch enough, elected to wait for a more opportune moment to score and let Crawford make the save. Roy followed this good offensive shift by a shift from the MacKinnon line, which was frantic and dominant in the Hawks zone. At one point an Avs forward tried to feed Jarome Iginla in front of the Hawks net, and Iginla looked like a madman axe murder swinging 1000 times per second at the loose puck. Somehow the puck didn't squeak past Crawford despite 10 billion Iginla attempts.
The Hawks responded with a good shift in the Avs zone, including a dangerous chance from the always dangerous Patrick Kane. Duncan Keith sent a beautiful corner to corner slap pass to Kane, but Kane redirected the puck high and wide. When Kane chased down his own shot, Vincour caught him up high with a stick and gave the Hawks yet another power play opportunity.
This time the Hawks would not be denied and Calvin Pickard's shutout streak would come to an abrupt and unfortunate halt. After several good chances Brent Seabrook finally fired a hard slapshot on Pickard. The puck trickled through and sat in the crease behind Picks, but before any Avalanche defenseman could find it, Jonathan Toews snuck in, skated behind the goalie and tucked the puck home. HIS FEET WERE IN THE PAINT (sorry Sabres fans. I had to).
The Avs responded up ice quickly with a dirty toe drag and shot low on Crawford, but Crawford made the stop.
With 7:00 left Andrew Shaw drove the Avalanche net, took a light push from Nick Holden and went sprawling into the Avs goalpost. The officials inexplicably called the light push in the back as a hold, a moment which even the Blackhawks announcing crew was completely baffled by. That wasn't a penalty. It wasn't even close to a penalty and it cost the Avalanche big. The Hawks made a great play to enter the zone with speed and the Avalanche coverage broke down on the left side of the ice. By great play, what I actually mean is they had 7 players on the ice and the 4 Avalanche defenders had a hard time figuring out which ones they were supposed to cover.
A wrong call penalty sent the Avs on this kill, and now this:
A tic-tac-toe play from Hossa to Kane to Shaw saw a slow, but well placed shot headed near the left post of the Avs net. Pickard was a tad slow sliding over and couldn't seal his skate to the post so the puck squeaked through and gave the Chicago BlackAndWhiteStripedHawks a 2-1 lead. Bull. Shit.
After the Blackhawks goal, Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay had an incredible chance with Corey Crawford laying on the ice miles away from his net. MacKinnon and Tanguay passed back and forth a dozen or so times before MacKinnon finally took aim at the wide open net and missed high by a mile.
The rest of this period was spent making the beautiful images you see above. Enjoy them while you wonder how the rest of the period went. (Not a lot happened and the score stayed 2-1)
If you're wondering about Ryan O'Reilly's luck this season, there was a really great moment of it on display 1:30 into the third frame. O'Reilly made an excellent defensive play to disrupt a Chicago scoring chance but bizarrely deflected the puck straight to Kris Versteeg who fired a hard one timer at the net. Pickard stood tall and dove on the rebound.
As the period progressed the Avalanche had a series of very good chances in the Hawks zone. Every time Corey Crawford would:
1. Move towards the puck
2. Fall down
3. Continue laying down
4. Watch as the puck bounced off every possible thing between the Avalanche and the net
Finally, FINALLY though, the Avalanche would pick up the garbage and bury it. First Ryan O'Reilly had a hard wrist shot from the left circle on his own, no dice, deflected wide. Then Matt Duchene sent a pass corner to corner to O'Reilly on the left side, but the pass was in his feet and O'Reilly didn't get much on the deflection towards the net. Crawford makes the stop. Finally the Avalanche drove the net like it was a doorbuster Black Friday sale, trampled over the Hawks defense and goalie, and Ryan O'Reilly grabbed the puck, switched it to his backhand and flipped it over the sprawling goalie.
Soon after MacKinnon tried to make a move on a Hawks defenseman, but when he lifted his arm to make a swim move, ripped off the Hawk's helmet. MacKinnon was called for holding and the Hawks went back on the power play. Avs killed the penalty thanks to another couple of studly saves from Calvin Pickard, then the game devolved into ALL OUT CHAOS.
First Matt Duchene made a great move in the neutral zone, beat two Hawks players and the blueline and was in the process of beating a third and driving the net before he was tackled from behind by Duncan Keith. No penalty. Seriously, there was no penalty call. Power plays are now 6-2 Chicago, and one of the Avs PP's was wiped out 40 seconds in.
PICKARD MADNESS. A few shifts after Duchene's near opportunity Marian Hossa fired the puck on net where it squeaked through Pickard's elbow and went trickling towards the back of the net. Pickard spun around and made a goalline save to sweep the puck away with his stick. The Avs weren't out of the woods yet, as the Hawks spent an extended amount of time not just in the Avs zone, but inside the Avalanche crease. Pickard made save after save and so did Holden, Cliche, and McLeod, who were also in varying degrees of sprawl-iness inside the Avs crease. Puck stayed out.
With 9:00 left in the period, Duchene had his stick chopped out of his hands in the neutral zone. This was also not a penalty. With 8:15 on the clock Nate Guenin stepped up on Marian Hossa at the blueline to make a defensive play 1-on-1 and I held my breath, only to watch Guenin make an outstanding poke check and strip Hossa of the puck while maintaining great body position. Great play.
The game settled down a bit in the next 3 minutes as both teams feared giving up the lead, but that's exactly the kind of time when the league's best players take over. With just over 5:00 left, Patrick Kane snagged a ridiculous pass out of the air onto his stick and around Nick Holden with the ease of a pro athlete in a beer league game. As all four nearby Avs converged to poke at Kane and not take the body, Kane chipped the puck forward to Bryan Bickell (ugh really?) all alone in the Avs crease. From that range with that time, Pickard didn't stand a chance. 3-2 Hawks.
With 2:40 left on the game clock, Ryan O'Reilly took a good pass in the high slot and falling, with a Hawks player draped over his back, sent a hard wristshot blocker side on Crawford. Crawford made the save. The Avalanche kept the heat on and fired a barrage of shots at the Hawks net, pulling Pickard with 90 seconds left on the game-clock. The Avs had one particularly good chance in front but Jarome Iginla couldn't beat the Hawks defense to the puck. As Iginla turned up ice to follow, Andrew Shaw threw one of the hardest cross checks into Iginla's back that I've seen this season. No call from the joke officials, and when the Avs called a timeout with 30 seconds remaining Iginla let the refs, and Shaw, know that he was extremely displeased with their decision. After the timeout the Avs went back to work in the Avs zone and in the final 30 seconds Landeskog was tackled from behind and crosschecked, and MacKinnon was high sticked (probably by Landeskog). No big deal, any of it. All legal. Hawks got the puck down ice and Barrie prevented an empty net goal with a diving defensive play, but it wasnt enough. Final buzzer. Hawks win 3-2.
The Avs caught a few good breaks tonight (posts, ridiculous Pickard saves) and a few bad breaks on the ice and in the officiating (everything about the 2nd Hawks goal). Fact is the Avs gave up a metric crap-ton of shots (45) and that's not good at all, so while it feels like they could have, and maybe should have won this one.... they really shouldn't have. On an unrelated note, Erik Johnson please stop being broken.
MHH Three Stars:
1. Calvin Pickard - Outstanding
2. Ryan O'Reilly - Equalizing goal and several other good chances. Best game in a while for him.
3. Marc Andre Cliche - I hate on him a lot (deservedly so) but he made a ridiculous pass tonight to get the Avs on the board. Consider yourself rewarded, now I'll go back to accurately speaking about your hockey talents.
Next Up: A little break for Turkey day (McGinn's favorite) followed by a visit from the Dallas Stars on Saturday at 9:00 PM EST 7:00 PM MST
Mile High Hockey