Last night's make-up game against the St. Louis Blues became the first win for the Colorado Avalanche since the All-Star Break. The 4-3 victory also snapped a 10-game losing streak, the longest since the franchise moved from Quebec to Colorado.
The win itself, while obviously a positive for a team that had been finding ways to lose games rather than win them, was great to see, but there were a couple other things that struck as huge positive takeaways for the Avs.
First, the return of Matt Duchene. Duchene was declared "out indefinitely" after the horrendous beatdown the Avalanche suffered at the hands of the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche had his injury listed as only a hand injury, which left all of us to the whimsy of speculation. While speculation is fantastically entertaining, nobody really likes to do it when it is about your team's top scorer.
Duchene looked fantastic in this game, especially early on. He usually is one of the fastest guys on the ice, but last night he definitely seemed to have a little extra bit of turbo charge in him. He was flying around, causing turnovers, making plays, skating around everybody, and missed a wide-open net in the first period that would have sent him careening into the boards again.
It's very fortunate that the worst of what we imagined Duchene might have had was nowhere near what actually happened to him. Duchene looks good, and should continue to impress as the Avs push towards the end of the season.
Second, Erik Johnson scored a HUGE goal against his former team. He had been quoted in the Denver Post, saying that he wanted to make the Blues regret trading him. Well, he did that.
After stealing an outlet pass in the offensive zone, Johnson muscled his way into the high slot and let a laser of a wrist shot go which beat St. Louis goalie Ty Conklin through the five-hole. After the goal, you could see how fired up he was about it‒pumping his fist and shouting as his teammates surrounded him to celebrate the goal.
Third, the Avs actually managed to maintain their momentum in crucial moments. How many times, this year, have the Avs scored a goal, or had a great shift, and then done something in the next 20 seconds to kill any and all momentum that they had?
Whether that be allowing a goal, or taking a bad penalty, the Avs have also seemed to follow greatness with mindlessness. But last night, after Johnson scored, rather than relax and let the Blues come right at them as they would have done a few weeks ago, Paul Stastny created another turnover in the offensive zone, and put a great backhanded shot home to spread the Avalanche lead to two goals. Granted, about twenty seconds later, the Avs did give up a goal, so there is still work to be done.
Defense still remains a bit of an issue, as the Avs gave up 45 shots on goal. Budaj was spectacular, on several occasions quite literally standing on his head to keep the puck out. The big plus about this was that the Avalanche finally started playing the body on the guys in front of the net, and didn't just let them have a nice clean whack at a puck sitting right in front of the goalie.
Budaj did, once again, give up three goals, but it was not your typical type of three-goal game by Budaj. He really was unbelievably good.
All of this contributes to another huge positive. The Avs are finally showing a team with some back bone. A lot more physical style of play, teammates are sticking up for each other, and they have actually even started three games in a row on time. There may yet be something to salvage from this team.
A playoff birth? Let's not get too carried away just yet. Let's see if they can win two in a row before we start talking about the playoffs. One thing is for sure though; if the Avs play with this type of intensity, they will at least be a team that the opposition respects when the game starts. Young teams have to learn those lessons the hard way sometimes, and it finally seems as if this team has learned something.