Erik Johnson

Grubauer shuts out Sharks to lead Avs in hard-fought Game 4 win

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The San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche feature two high-powered offenses and up until now the series has reflected it. Game 4 on Thursday was a far more defensive-minded contest though and in the end it was the Avalanche that edged out with a 3-0 final to even the series.

The first half of the game went by without a single goal. The Sharks and Avalanche were largely even in play as well on the scoresheet to that point, but Nathan MacKinnon finally gave Colorado an edge at 10:34 of the second period. Appropriately for this game, the goal was the result of persistence. MacKinnon tried to whack a rebound twice before it finally got by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Special teams also worked in the Avalanche’s favor. They successfully killed two San Jose power plays, including one that trickled into the start of the third period. Meanwhile, Colin Wilson scored a power-play goal at 3:11 of the third to give Colorado some breathing room. At 18:51, Erik Johnson fired a shot from the other end of the ice that went into the empty net to push the game to 3-0.

Certainly Jones had a rough regular season and he’s struggled at times during the 2019 playoffs, but this loss wasn’t his fault. Neither of the Avalanche’s goals on him made him look bad and Jones also made some big saves. Philipp Grubauer really stepped up Thursday night though, stopping 32 shots.

Obviously, the Sharks couldn’t do enough offensively, but their penalty problems in the third certainly didn’t help. San Jose was assessed four minor penalties in the third period. At one point in the middle of the period, the Sharks were briefly down two men. It’s hard to turn a game around when you’re spending so much time shorthanded.

This is the second time San Jose has been shutout in the 2019 playoffs. The last time came in Game 4 against Vegas, which put the Golden Knights up 3-1 in that series. The Sharks aren’t in as much trouble in this series, but they can nevertheless take comfort in the fact that they bounced right back with a 5-2 win against Vegas in Game 5.

Avalanche-Sharks Game 5 from SAP Center will be Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Erik Johnson tossed after apparent elbow to the head

Sportsnet
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A night with just fives games on the docket has produced two ejections on questionable hits.

The first — a Tom Wilson special — has already been well documented.

The second came during one of the night’s late games between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues.

Alex Steen leveled Nathan MacKinnon at the Avs blue line, grabbed the puck and took it in for a scoring chance. After he got the shot off, Erik Johnson came over and appeared to drive his elbow into Steen’s face.

Let’s roll the tape:

Steen’s hit was a clean, solid shot that separated MacKinnon from the puck.

Johnson’s certainly looked the exact opposite. He was penalized for elbowing on the play plus the game misconduct.

Steen, meanwhile, was forced out the game. The Blues announced he would miss the rest of the game with an upper-body injury,

The ensuing scrum spilled over after Johnson was heading to the box. Alex Pietrangelo came and got in Johnson’s face, prompting Gabriel Landeskog to shove Pietrangelo, which didn’t sit well for Joel Edmundson, who tried to get at Landeskog.

Johnson was handed a two-game suspension last December for shoving Vladislav Namestnikov into the boards after giving him a vicious two-handed slash.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety was going to be busy on Saturday due to the Wilson situation. Now, they’ve got more work to do.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Culture Change: How an attitude adjustment has slowly begun to turn the Colorado Avalanche around

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WINNIPEG — Gabriel Landeskog knew. 

A change in the cultural fabric in Colorado is something the Avalanche had talked about for a couple seasons, and something that hadn’t happened.

The warning signs for the 25-year-old captain of the Avs were abundant, including a treasure trove of terrible that attached itself to a historically brutal season in 2016-17.

Like the natural phenomena they’re named after, those problems finally broke free early last season for the Avs. Unable to be controlled, they tore down the Colorado Avalanche, only coming to a halt at the end of the season at rock bottom. 

“You take it pretty personal,” Landeskog said on Saturday in Winnipeg, hours before his team would lose 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, a fourth loss in their past five games since winning 10 straight.

It was a far cry from the days of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy, when the team was dominating the Western Conference, not wallowing as the team others trampled over at will.

That winning culture was gone, replaced with mediocrity in recent years and then utter failure after last season.

Nothing looked quite like last year.  

Colorado’s 48 points was a franchise worst. They lost 56 games. They were last or close to last in numerous statistical categories.

“You’re not supposed to take it home with you, but I would,” Landeskog said. “This is our job, this is what we do. It’s something that is hard to put behind you, going home and trying not to think about the fact that you just lost six in a row.”

The Avs needed a core leadership group to emerge to start those changes. Landeskog said himself, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and Blake Comeau came together to figure out how to begin to mend their ailing team. 

“It was really embarrassing for us,” Barrie said of the 2016-17 campaign. 

Barrie, along with the now-departed Matt Duchene, led the team with a minus-34. It’s a flawed statistic, sure, but one indicative one what was happening on the ice. Only four players that played some sort of role for the Avalanche were zero or better in that category. 

“It was a bad season and we knew we didn’t want to be back there. It was a long summer for us,” Barrie said.

With a core trying to steer this ship and a coaching staff in the same boat, Barrie said training camp prior to this season was the hardest and toughest he’s taken part in.

“Physical, testing, everything like that,” he said.

Landeskog said the leadership group assembled wasn’t a dictatorship, noting that every team has its core and it was a potential solution to the massive problem. 

“It’s easier said than done,” Landeskog said of changing the team’s attitude. “There were a lot of Xs and Os. We had a young team that maybe didn’t have to be accountable where they came from before. Maybe there was a different attitude. We had to establish one attitude here, and it started with the veteran guys.” 

Both Landeskog and Barrie agreed that there wasn’t a particular switch that was flipped this season. Hard work from training camp didn’t immediately translate as the Avs flirted with .500 in October.

But Landeskog pointed to the trip they took to Sweden as a possible turning point.

The Avs lost both games to the Ottawa Senators — close affairs — and were dealing with the departure of Matt Duchene, who had been traded days before they embarked to Landeskog’s homeland.

“You talk about team building and stuff like that. Some people might not believe in it, but I’m a strong believer in it,” Landeskog said. “That trip brought us a lot closer.”

The on-ice product started to follow suit. The work they had put in since the beginning of the season began to pay off and the Avs rattled off 10 straight wins to climb back into the playoff picture.

“We’re a different team this year,” Barrie said. “I think having some fresh, new faces in here, some guys who were really excited to be in the NHL and be a part of a team like the Avalanche, gave us some energy.”

MacKinnon has put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation with what many believe is his breakout season. A 2-to-4 week suspected shoulder injury has derailed that a little bit, but MacKinnon’s stellar play leading by example has helped the Avs to where they are, just outside the playoff line — something unimaginable at this point last season.

Mikko Rantanen has taken a step forward in his sophomore year and rookie Alexander Kerfoot has been a godsend down the middle, especially now that he’s tasked to help stem the bleeding in MacKinnon’s absence.

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Barrie said. “You look at guys like (MacKinnon) taking the next step. And we’ve had guys just elevate their play and these young guys come in (who are) so excited to play. They’ve been a big part of our team… it’s really exciting for the future.”

It’s a start, Landeskog said.

“We’re growing together.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Zac Rinaldo is about to be handed another multi-game suspension

NHL.com
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At some point later this week it will be time to reset your “Days Since Zac Rinaldo’s Been Suspended” boards after the Arizona Coyotes forward was offered an in-person hearing for his actions during Saturday night’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Midway through the second period, Rinaldo laid a hit on Nathan MacKinnon in the neutral zone, which left the Avs forward stunned. Defenseman Samuel Girard responded by confronting Rinaldo, who then proceeded to drop the unsuspecting rookie with a punch. It was chaos after that.

“[Girard] is not going over there to try and fight him. He’s just going over there to give him a bump and he suckered him. I’m sure that’s something the league will look at,” said Avs defenseman Erik Johnson via Arizona Sports.

The Department of Player Safety did take a look at it and is ready to hand Rinaldo another multi-game ban. No longer considered a repeat offender, he’s been suspended four times since his rookie season of 2011-12 for a total of 19 games. He was even talented enough in 2016 earn a five-game suspension in the AHL days after being suspended for five games in the NHL.

The league is no fan of sucker punches, and considering the history of the player handing out said sucker punch and the offer of an in-person hearing, Rinaldo could be looking at a suspension close to at least half a dozen games, if not more.

UPDATE:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Erik Johnson to sit two games for Avalanche after suspension

NHL
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It was pretty clear that after receving a slashing minor, boarding major and game misconduct all in the span of about three seconds, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche still had some punishment coming to him.

And so on Sunday night the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a two-game ban for the veteran defenseman after he boarded Vladislav Namestnikov Saturday night in Colorado.

As detailed in the video, Johnson knows that Namestnikov has already fired his shot on goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning forward isn’t expecting to be shoved like that after his scoring attempt. That, and how far he was from the boards make it all especially dangerous. Fortunately, Namestnikov was able to remain in the game.

“Dangerous play. You just hold your breath on those. Got a little fortunate with Vladdy, obviously didn’t get as fortunate with Callahan,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, referring to Ryan Callahan‘s injury after an awkward collision with Oliver Ekman-Larsson last week.

Johnson will lose out on $64,516.12, which goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.