A tall order
DENVER – The Pepsi Center is steadily becoming one of the more difficult buildings to play in across the NHL. The Canadiens found that out first-hand on Saturday night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Avalanche in the Mile High City.
Despite Brendan Gallagher’s game-tying power play goal at the 3:38 mark of the third period, Colorado responded with three consecutive goals of their own during the final 12 minutes of the contest to collect their sixth straight victory. In upping their record to 12-1-0 on the year – and recording their sixth win in seven total tilts on home ice – the Avs have established themselves as the team to beat thus far this year with a league-leading 24 points.
Goaltender Peter Budaj, who spent six years with the Avalanche before joining the Canadiens in 2011-12, offered up instant analysis of his former teammates in the aftermath of a 27-save effort that ended in his first loss of the season.
“They’re relentless. They’re first on the puck. They work hard. They chip the puck and they go after it. They do everything with a purpose and they win the battles,” noted Budaj, who saw his shutout streak of 128:46 dating back to Oct. 10 come to an end when Gabriel Landeskog opened the scoring for Patrick Roy's contingent in the first period. “They compete really hard. Jiggy [J.S. Giguere] played really well tonight. They’ve got good skill offensively and solid defense. They’re in first place and they’ve got good young players that win the one-on-one battles.”
Returning to the lineup for the first since being injured on Oct. 15 in Winnipeg, Max Pacioretty saw his fair share of Colorado’s energetic playing style while logging 21 minutes of ice time over the course of the evening. The power forward was impressed by what the Avalanche bring to the table.
“They’re a good team. They play as a group of five out there. In the first, they caught us off guard with their good team play, but we caught on as the game went on,” affirmed Pacioretty, who co-led the Canadiens with five shots on goal on Saturday night, all of which were turned aside by Giguere in a 29-save performance that saw the 36-year-old improve to 4-0-0 on the season. “They got a couple of breaks at the end, but I think we looked a little bit better as the game went on.”
To a man, however, the Habs were quick to admit that affording their opponents chances to dictate play early isn’t a recipe for success, especially against teams that boast significant firepower like the Avs. Nevertheless, players like Gallagher are adamant that the Canadiens will turn things around in short order given the level of character on the roster.
“You can’t afford to make mistakes as a team like that,” offered Gallagher, referencing several breakdowns in defensive coverage that led to the Avalanche lighting the lamp behind Budaj on three occasions before P.A. Parenteau capped the scoring with an empty-netter. “I think we’re hurting ourselves right now. It’s easy to fix. Nobody is losing any confidence whatsoever in this group. But, it’s something that we need to correct and I have no doubt that we’re going to do it.”
Head coach Michel Therrien began that process on Saturday night, making several in-game adjustments to sway the momentum of the game in the Canadiens’ favor. While the final result wasn’t what the Habs bench boss was hoping for, he fully intends on staying the course and going ahead with an action plan that has been in the works for quite some time.
“I liked the changes that we made in the third period. It was our best period offensively. I liked Galchenyuk at centre. That’s something we’d been thinking about for a while,” explained Therrien, who saw his troops amass 14 shots on goal in the third period and generate several good scoring opportunities. “With Pacioretty and Gallagher, they generated good things together. It’s something that we’re going to try again for sure.”