After weeks of starting games strong only to stumble towards the final buzzer, the Avalanche finally found that consistency they’ve been yearning for on Thursday at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado (26-15-6) scored off the opening faceoff and kept its foot on the pedal the entire game, shutting out the San Jose Sharks 4-0 to end its four-game winless streak and improve to 1-0-2 in its homestand.
Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer was credited with his first shutout of the season two nights after a frustrating loss to Dallas resulted in the goalie calling out his teammates for not playing consistent hockey.
“Everybody should be proud of themselves for how they played today,” Grubauer said. “You got to build on that. Since the Pittsburgh game: the first period was unbelievable, last game was really good and this game was the most complete. You got to make sure you get consistency like that and move on.”
Grubauer made 27 saves. But the Avalanche’s defensive effort made it easier for the goaltender to earn his first shutout since Game 4 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against these very same Sharks.
“It’s always nice and makes the game exciting when you play familiar teams,” defensemen Ryan Graves said after scoring a crucial goal to make it 3-0. “It got a little heated at the end there but it was a fun game.”
Colorado’s opening goal came from forward Valeri Nichushkin, who along with linemates Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri, were all added to the roster after the Avalanche’s loss to San Jose in the playoffs last May. Nichuskin picked the puck up along the end boards, skated around former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, and slid the puck five-hole past goalie Martin Jones to give the Avs a 1-0 lead.
The eventual game-winner continued a pattern of strong first-period play from the Avs over the past month. Defenseman Cale Makar added his 10th of the season with three seconds left in the opening period.
The difference in this game was Colorado’s ability to not only continue to push offensively but more importantly, keep San Jose from taking control of the game.
“We’ve wanted to tighten up the defensive side of things for a while,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “We had been doing that in stages and stretches but today we put together a full effort and game of quality on the defensive side of the puck.”
The Avalanche’s forwards were also crucial in Colorado’s effort defensively, highlighted by their faceoff dominance and puck control throughout the evening. The Avs won 62 percent of draws led by captain Gabe Landeskog (8-of-9) and center J.T. Compher (9-of-13).
“It’s not just the defense, it’s forwards helping out. Them coming back, them tracking back hard, catching guys and staying above the puck in the offensive zone,” Cole added. “It makes our job exponentially easier. When we stay connected like that, forwards to defense, defense to forwards and the goalie backing it all up, we can be a really good team and start to dominate games. We know the blueprint and today was one of the first times during this recent stretch where we pull it together for a full 60 minutes.”
Leading 2-0 entering the second, the Avs added a third goal from Graves after a clean faceoff win from forward Vladislav Kamenev.
But the goal that put the game away was the fourth, a shorthanded tally by forward Matt Calvert. San Jose was looking to cut into Colorado’s three-goal lead while on the power play. But a turnover caused by center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare sprung Calvert in on a breakaway. The forward faked backhand, bringing it back to his forehand for a tap-in past the netminder to make it 4-0.
“It was all the guys,” Jared Bednar said about the shorthanded goal. “Tight gaps coming up the ice, Bellemare gets a stick on it to disrupt it at the blue line, a great scoring play on the goalie.”
The Avalanche suddenly have points in their last three games with a matinee meeting against the St. Louis Blues awaiting them at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Colorado trails the Blues by 10 points with one game in hand for first in the Central Division. Certainly, a win on Saturday could help close the gap.
The top line was held off the scoresheet. All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon, forward Mikko Rantanen and Landeskog all finished the game without a point. The trio had numerous golden scoring chances but was unable to find the scoresheet. But with the depth players stepping up, it wasn’t really a cause for concern. Rantanen (tied with Bellemare) led the game with five shots.
Compher plays his 200th career game. The former Michigan Wolverine was acquired by the Avs in a blockbuster deal that sent center Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo nearly four years ago. Compher, in his fourth season, has become one of the Avalanche’s better depth forwards. He recorded one shot and two blocks in 14:51 of ice time.
Makar and Graves put on a show offensively. The pair each finished with four shots and scored identical goals for the Avalanche. Makar’s goal, his 10th, tied an Avalanche record for goals by a rookie defenseman.