The night had all the makings of things finally pointing in the right direction for the Avalanche with 20 games left to play in the regular season. Joe Sakic was back in the lineup after missing 38 games, the last of the big 3 forwards returning from injury. This was the first of three consecutive games against the Canadian division foes, and a chance not only to start the trek towards one of the last playoff spots, but to make up ground in the division as well.
The game started off well for the Avs as Tyler Arnason was able to put them ahead less than 30 seconds into the game. The Avs dominated the Oilers in the first, had several near misses, and gained a 2-0 lead on a Ben Guite goal later in the period from none other than Joe Sakic. Then came the Avalanche kiss of death this season. Once they got that two goal lead, the Avs abandoned what had worked for them and decided with over 40 minutes left in the game, they were content with sitting on the lead and hoping for the best.
Give credit to the Oilers, once they got down, they played hard. As much as the Avs dominated in the 1st period, they were controlled as much or more by the Oilers in the 2nd. The Avs had 3 shots on goal in the period.. 3.. Goals by Gagner and Glencross tied the game before, by my account, the Avalanche even had a shot on goal in the period. That's over 11 minutes. Who would have thought that the 1-4 and 0-5 forechecking systems wouldn't produce any offensive pressure?
The Avs finally started playing again in the 3rd, but the Oilers got a break when Kyle Cumiskey misread a cross-ice pass, tried to step in front of it only to have it get by him on to the stick of Cogliano who came in and buried a nice shot just inside the far post to give the Oilers a 3-2 lead they wouldn't give up. Cumiskey made a rookie mistake, but at least he was trying to be aggressive, something the rest of the team wasn't doing.
Tyler Arnason showed good jump throughout the game, and seems to play so much better in the Albertan cities than anywhere else in the league. Wojtek Wolski looked good and played hard after being a healthy scratch last game. Joe Sakic was back in the lineup, but you could tell that he had missed 3 months of action. Paul Stastny had a chance to tie the game on the power play in the 3rd, having a rebound kick out to him with a wide open net, but the puck got into his skates and handcuffed him. Scott Hannan looked drunk for a good part of the second period. He was slow to react to the play, and was gliding around the ice hunched over, lunging with his stick instead of moving his feet. The power play continues to lack power. Here's a quick version of almost every Avs PP chance this season. Dump the puck in, opponent sends it back down the ice, regroup and dump it in again. Gain possession, battle along the boards for 30 seconds, lose the puck, go pick it up in their own end again. Repeat 2-3 times and the power play is over. The times the PP has been somewhat effective has been when the Avs focus on creating from the point or the side boards. Unfortunately, they continue to want to start from behind the net, which allows the other team to collapse down low, cut off all passing lanes, and keep the Avs to the outside, and often times only allow maybe 1 shot on goal in the 2 minutes. Throw in the fact that the 4 guys without the puck are stationary, and playing D against them is pretty easy.
In the end, the Avs started the way they wanted to, but like many games this month, were unable to play hard for 60 minutes. Part of it is team philosophy, but in the end, the onus falls on the players as well. They aren't playing like they want to win, and with every remaining game being important for both teams involved, this kind of effort will continue to produce losses.