ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like two sprinters in the prime of their careers, Saturday night’s matchup between the Ducks and the Avalanche felt like the track meet of a lifetime at times. Before the game, Ducks head coach Greg Cronin had highlighted the Avalanche’s speed and emphasized keeping turnovers and penalties down against such a quick team.
It was a quick start out of the gate for sure for the Avs, who scored just 36 seconds into the game. Colorado hit Anaheim with speed off the rush and Bo Byram came in as the trailer on an odd-man rush to beat John Gibson five-hole. Byram would get his second goal of the eight minutes later on another odd-man rush, beating Gibson with a shot off the far-side post.
Despite the score after one, Cronin said that he loved the way his team played in the first period. “We put a lot of pressure on them we were getting pucks back, we were creating shots. We just got a little bit sloppy on our coverage. We got our third forward caught deep and that was really the only issue I thought we had (in that period).”
“We need to have better starts,” said Leo Carlsson. “We can’t go down a goal every single game. I feel like we’ve been down a goal or two over the last few games.”
The Ducks would get one back on the power play, with Ryan Strome finding Adam Henrique on the backdoor. But Colorado extended their lead to two goals just before the end of the first period, with Devon Toews beating Gibson on the blocker side.
It was a strong second period that got Anaheim back into the game. A goal early on from Carlsson brought them within one and then a power play goal from Alex Killorn midway through the period evened the score. It was the 200th goal of Killorn’s NHL career.
“For me, the beginning of the season was a little tough because once I broke my finger, I wasn’t able to skate for like six weeks,” said Killorn. “And then I get put into (game action) and I feel like I was a little bit behind the 8-ball. But as I’ve continued to play games, I feel like I got my feet under me. Tonight was my best game for sure.”
Anaheim continued to threaten in the third while Gibson kept the score at three apiece with a big save on Ross Colton, who received a stretch pass coming out of the penalty box. It was a nice bounce back for the netminder after a rough first period. His appearance tonight made him the franchise leader in games played by a goaltender with 448, surpassing Jean-Sébastien Giguère.
Regulation would not be the end of this matchup, nor would overtime, although both Byram and Carlsson came close to ending the game for their respective teams. The shootout was the John Gibson and Leo Carlsson show, with the former stopping all three Avalanche shootout attempts while the latter put home his first-career shootout attempt in the NHL to snap the Ducks’ eight-game losing streak.
“Kind of lost the puck there so I was nervous for a second,” said Carlsson. “But after that, I knew I had him. So it was a good move.”
It was the third multi-point effort of Carlsson’s career through just 16 games as he continues to center the top line with Killorn and Troy Terry on his flanks. His goal tonight was his first since scoring a hat trick on Nov. 10 against the Flyers.
“I have to pinch myself and realize he’s still 18,” said Killorn of Carlsson. “I think I was still in high school when I was 18, so for him to be doing what he’s doing, it’s so impressive. The ceiling for this kid is so high.”
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Cronin. “He’s so coachable. He made some risky decisions at the blue line trying to keep pucks in in a 3-3 game. He comes back to the bench (and we tell him), ‘That’s not going to fly in the NHL, Leo.’ He gets it. He makes adjustments from one shift to the next.”
The power play had been struggling during the eight-game losing streak, but the two power play tallies from Henrique and Killorn proved to be difference-makers tonight. Special teams as a whole were a clear advantage for Anaheim tonight, as they were able to keep Colorado––who came into tonight as the 12th-best man advantage––off the board on the power play.
Mason McTavish exited Saturday’s game early with an upper-body injury and did not return. Cronin said he doesn’t know the extent of McTavish’s injury yet, but credited the rest of his forward corps for stepping up down a man.
“We had some matchups we were trying to get against (Nathan) MacKinnon and (McTavish) is a part of that and then he goes down. You always say it’s called ‘bingo ball hockey’. You’re just trying to put guys in the right spots and I thought they responded well.”