Avalanche stumbling when it matters the most

The Colorado Avalanche were the surprise of the season, as the burst
out to a great start behind the stellar play of Craig Anderson in net
and a potent offense. We kept waiting for this supposedly overachieving
team to crash back down to earth, yet all season long they’ve held onto a
top spot in the West.

Except lately the Avs have started to falter. Colorado was in perfect
position coming out of the Olympic break to challenge for a top three
seed in the West and the Northwest division crown, yet’s been nothing
but inconsistency and struggle in the five games since.

It’s what you would expect from a young team that despite it’s sudden
surge this season is still finding its way after a couple of years of
painful rebuilding. But what about this season? Is this is a team that
is going to stumble on its way into the playoffs only to lose in the
first round and exit? It would be a wholly disappointing end to a
remarkable season, yet it certainly seems they could be headed that way.

The Avalanche are 3-4-0 in their last seven games, with all four
losses against teams they are battling with for playoff positioning.
Most alarming was the way in which the Avalanche fell apart in an
extremely important home game against Vancouver, with the possibility of
tying the Northwest division leading Canucks. Instead of hanging onto
an early 4-1 lead, the Avs allowed five straight goals en route to a
disastrous 6-4 loss.

“We got away from our game,” said Avs defender
John-Michael Liles, who finished minus-2. “That’s ultimately what
allowed them to get back in it. We need to cut down on turnovers. We
were making our own chances and forcing them into some turnovers, but
we got away from that.”

It’s certainly not time to
push the panic button. The Avalanche will make the playoffs and they
still have a good shot at challenging the Canucks for the top spot in
the division. But with points at a premium and each game more important
than the last, Colorado has not taken advantage of the opportunities
they’ve been handed.

Yet it also seems as if Colorado is playing
with fire. They are last in the NHL in shots per game, and 25th in shots
allowed, yet somehow maintains a healthy goal differential. The team is
relying heavily on the play of Craig Anderson and obviously has some of
the most efficient scorers in the NHL to score like they have, but are
we seeing what happens when the good fortune they’ve enjoyed starts to
wan a bit?

There’s no doubt that the Avs can be a dangerous team
in the playoffs, with solid goaltending and young, talented players up
forward. But there’s also a good chance that either the goaltending or
scoring will give way in the playoffs and I doubt one side can overcome
the stumble of the other.

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    Sharks finally solve Gibson in OT to defeat rival Ducks

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    Talk about perfect timing.

    Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, doing so in overtime to lift the San Jose Sharks past the goaltending of John Gibson in a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

    Facing off against their California rivals for the first time this season, the Sharks dominated puck possession and on the shot clock. Had it not been for the play of Gibson, this one could’ve been a lopsided win for San Jose.

    Gibson replaced Jonathan Bernier to begin the second period. Bernier left the game with an upper-body injury.

    In relief, Gibson made 24 saves on 25 shots. Vlasic was the only San Jose player to get the puck past him, but not before the Ducks managed to steal a single point.

    The Ducks recorded the single point, but did so faced with a short-handed lineup as the game continued. Not only did Bernier leave the game, but so, too, did Ryan Getzlaf, who didn’t play a shift in the third period.

    He left with an upper-body injury, as per the Ducks, who at the time listed his return as questionable.

    Elliott backstops Flames to victory in his return to St. Louis

    CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    So, it seems Jake Allen was onto something.

    The St. Louis Blues goalie noted a few days ago that Calgary Flames fans shouldn’t be worried about Brian Elliott despite his early-season struggles.

    Well, Elliott has since put together strong performances in back-to-back games against Central Division opponents from Chicago and then St. Louis.

    After earning a shootout win over the Blackhawks on Monday, Elliott was put back in the Calgary net to finish off the back-to-back road set.

    Facing his former team, Elliott made 23 saves on 24 shots and the Flames recorded a 4-1 victory. It was a special return to St. Louis for Elliott, who spent five seasons with the Blues.

    “I saw that on the schedule from a while ago in the summer,” Elliott told NHL.com. “You want to come back here. I had so much fun playing in front of these fans in this building and wanted to do it again even though it was another team. The guys did a heck of a job in front of me to get that win for me.”

    Not a bad trip for the Flames, with a maximum four points against two teams considered to be contenders in the Western Conference.

    “I thought we were good in front of him, too,” Flames coach Glen Gulutzan told the Calgary Herald. “I thought we kept a lot of the stuff to the outside, but he made some big saves, especially at the end, when we knew their push was coming.

    “I thought that was when he was his best. And that’s what you need — we put ourselves in position to win and then he carried us through.”

    Bernier (upper-body injury) gives way to Gibson in Ducks net

    GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson began Tuesday’s game on the bench, but was forced into action to begin the second period against the San Jose Sharks.

    Jonathan Bernier, who got the start, left the game with an upper-body injury and was doubtful to return, the Ducks stated on Twitter.

    Bernier has played in only one other game for Anaheim so far, making 42 saves on 45 shots in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 15.

    ‘Dig in there with the rest of the guys,’ says Babcock after leaving Andersen in against Bolts

    OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: In his first game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen #31 puts his mask on against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    Frederik Andersen‘s difficult start to the season continues.

    After an interesting exchange when questioned about his goaltender prior to Tuesday’s game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning and some guy named Steven Stamkos, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was once again forced to answer inquiries about the play of Andersen, who allowed seven goals on just 24 shots.

    Andersen stayed in the crease for the entire game, as the Leafs lost 7-3. He certainly didn’t get much help in the defensive end from his teammates in front of him.

    Stamkos started the scoring for Tampa Bay, and continued it with a rocket one-timer past Andersen, before finishing with a four-point night.

    But in Toronto, the conversation about the amazing play of rookies like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner seems to have shifted to the play of their goalie, acquired in a blockbuster deal with Anaheim, in which Toronto parted ways with a first- and second-round pick to make it happen. The Leafs then signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal.

    Playing on a new team in a hockey-crazed market has likely been an adjustment. His season also started with an injury in Olympic qualifying.

    Following the loss Tuesday, Babcock explained his reasoning for leaving Andersen in net for all seven Tampa Bay goals, two of which came late in the third period.

    “I want him to play. He’s my guy. I want him to play,” said Babcock, as per Jonas Siegel of The Canadian Press. “So I could pull him and then say, ‘Okay I showed you!’ But what did I show him? To me, dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.”

    The Maple Leafs face the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Florida’s goalie Roberto Luongo knows all-too-well about the pressures that come with playing the position in a Canadian market.

    It is early in Andersen’s Toronto tenure.

    But Babcock will likely be facing a similar line of questioning until his goalie turns it around.