Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Varly, Landy, and Dutchy power Avs past Kings

Last Saturday, the Colorado Avalanche opened up their shortened 2013 season in Minnesota and fell to the new-look Wild, despite playing a good first and third period.

Three days later, the Avs made their season debut on home ice, where they faced off against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings.  Despite the fact that the Kings went on to win it all last year, the Avs actually had great success against Los Angeles, sweeping them in all four meetings last season.

The Avs and the Kings both entered last night's matchup 0-1 on the season and looking for their first win of 2013.  The Kings' best player is unquestionably their goaltender, reigning Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, so Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov had his work cut out for him to match Quick.

Varly was outstanding last night.  He surrendered a first period goal, which was the result of young defenseman Tyson Barrie failing to tie up his man across the low slot.  The Avs did get themselves into trouble, taking six penalties on the night, but Varly and the penalty killing unit were spectacular, killing of all six Kings power play opportunities. 

The game was 1-0 in favor of the Kings through two periods and the Avs failed to capitalize on a 5-3 power play advantage late in the second, despite getting some good looks. 

Enter Gabriel Landeskog.  The 20-year-old Swede was not named the youngest captain in NHL history for some gimmick or fluke, this kid is the real deal.  It's cliche in pro sports, but in order to win, your best players have to be your best players and Landeskog showed why he is just that.  Landy received a somewhat fortunate bounce from defenseman Jan Hejda, but he used his hockey awareness and strength to be in the perfect position and he put the puck home past Jon Quick for the Avs' first goal on home ice this year.

Barely over a minute and a half later, sniper David Jones, fresh off a new four-year contract, snapped a wrist shot over the shoulder of Quick to give the Avs their first lead of the night.  Not bad for Jonesy to get the eventual game-winner at the first game his six-month-old son was able to attend!

Newcomer P.A. Parenteau would later get his first score as a member of the Avalanche and put Colorado up 3-1 for good.

Although he only recorded one assist on the night, center Matt Duchene was unquestionably one of the best players on the ice throughout the entire game.  From the opening face off, Duchene was flying, using his trademark speed to create space for him and his linemates.  He set up the play nicely that led to Landeskog's goal and he was good in all three zones. 

With fan-favorite Ryan O'Reilly still playing over in Russia as he has been unable to agree to a new contract in Colorado, Duchene's already important role with the Avs increase exponentially.  During the first two games this season, Duchene has been frequently used as a penalty killer, a role that he has not been known for throughout his young NHL career.

Over the summer, Duchene trained with Sidney Crosby, arguably the world's best hockey player and his trainer to work on his game.  Duchene eliminated gluten, sugar, and dairy from his diet to get into the best shape of his life.  He excelled in Sweden and Switzerland during the lockout and looks to be hungry to take his game to the next level with the Avalanche.  He is playing a more physical game it seems thus far.  He appears to be stronger and not afraid to get into the gritty areas of the ice.  On the set up of Landy's goal, he casually brushed off defenseman Rob Scuderi to get to the front of the net.

Duchene was also involved in a scary incident last night after he blocked a shot by Kings all-star defensemen Drew Doughty, who certainly has a cannon of a shot.  Duchene took the shot up high and immediately skated to the bench and into the locker room.  Just a couple short minutes later, Duchene returned to to game with a bandage on his jaw.  He would require stitches after the game and said he was lucky the shot didn't hit him higher, otherwise he probably would have lost all of his teeth.  Head coach Joe Sacco praised Duchene's play and his toughness for returning to the ice so quickly after sacrificing his body to block the shot.

Whether or not O'Reilly returns to Colorado, and of course we all hope he does very soon, Duchene will be a key piece for the Avs. 

The Avs are back at it at home tomorrow night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Jackets traded the longtime face of their franchise and former captain, Rick Nash over the summer, but the new-look Jackets are not to be taken lightly.  In a short, 48 game season, every game is an important one.  The Avs' key to success will be for them to use their youth and energy night in and night out and to not take games and even periods off.

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