In Colorado’s 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night, it was evident that the Avalanche were missing their two most potent forwards in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
The Avs offense felt the absence of the two first-line forwards most notably in the shot total as the team lost the first-period shot count 14-3 and the total shot count 39-20.
“First period we were standing around a little bit and we looked like we lacked poise and confidence with the puck,” coach Jared Bednar said following the win. “We showed in the second and third that we were much better. We started skating, we started making plays, willing to skate the puck out of traffic and get our head up and hit the open man.”
Before Tuesday night’s meeting with the Sharks, MacKinnon and Rantanen had combined for 41 goals this season which equates to 33 percent of the Avalanche goal total for the year.
In order to beat a formidable San Jose squad, someone from the forward group was going to have to fill a rather large offensive void — that someone was Tyson Jost who ended with a goal and an assist on the evening.
After the Avs escaped the first period with a 0-0 score, Jost helped get the scoring started just over two minutes into the second by making a strong defensive play in Colorado’s offensive zone. Pressure from Jost created a turnover at the blue line and got the puck to J.T. Compher who then took it to the net and found Gabriel Bourque trailing the play for the finish.
“The defenseman was bobbling the puck there and I think that’s one of the strong parts of my game is getting on the forecheck and trying to check people,” Jost recalled. “I just tried to not get my stick in his legs or draw a penalty there and the puck popped out to me and I just tapped it to [J.T. Compher] and he did the rest.”
A little over two minutes later, Jost scored a goal of his own off a breakaway created by quick neutral-zone puck movement from linemate Nail Yakupov and the Avs had a 2-0 lead. The goal was Jost’s fourth of the year and first since January 6.
“If you look at my last ten games I was due for a goal — I had a lot of chances and I was getting unlucky,” Jost said. “I was trying to stay positive, it does get frustrating when you have all those chances and they’re not going in.”
“I was happy tonight, but I’m not satisfied and there’s still a lot of season left and I still feel I can bring more, so I’m excited for what’s ahead.”
Jost wasn’t alone in carrying the team to victory. Of course, with one goal allowed on 39 shots, credit has to go to goaltender Jonathan Bernier as well.
“Big credit to Bernier, he’s been outstanding for us these last two months,” Jost commented on Bernier’s performance. “We are so confident in our goaltending.”
Even with little offense to speak of, Bernier taps his stick to the support in front of him saying, “Obviously, they were missing a couple guys, but we did too. I thought we battled really hard, our backcheck was really good tonight. Last game we had too many penalties and I think tonight we stuck to our game.”
With 6:31 remaining in the second period, San Jose’s Joel Ward put a rebound past Bernier from in front of the net and put his team within one.
The Sharks truly tested Bernier as they were seemingly taking any shot they could find, ending the night with 71 total shot attempts.
“They came out really strong and they just fired everything at the net,” Bernier stated. “You’ve got to make sure you know where everyone is on the ice and control those rebounds.”
However, the Avalanche did not sit back in the third as San Jose pushed to tie the game. It was a back-and-forth period for the most part that ended in a J.T. Compher empty-netter with four seconds left in the game, sealing the 3-1 win and fending off the Sharks’ final push.
“[Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher, and Nail Yakupov/Gabriel Bourque] made the biggest adjustment, for me, out of any line for the second and third and good for those guys,” coach Bednar said. “They are the line that got us going and fired us up and scored two goals and the confidence of getting the empty-net goal at the end — between those guys they had all three goals.”
“They are getting put in a spot where they are getting more opportunity — all of those guys’ minutes have gone up since MacKinnon has gone out of the lineup. We put them together because those are the guys we want to see eat up some of those minutes and try to find a way to produce offensively.”
“Tonight they answered the bell, especially for those last 40 minutes.”
The Avs have now won nine home games in a row which is the longest home win streak since they moved to Colorado in 1995.
The team will now head back out on the road for three games, facing the St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, and Buffalo Sabres before returning home to face the Montreal Canadiens on Valentine’s Day.
Colorado currently sits one position out of a playoff spot with 62 points and a 29-19-4 record.