There's a surprising amount of negativity out there today regarding the Avs' 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks last night. Dater's blog in the Denver Post sounded like his Ambien hasn't been working for him lately - he's pretty grouchy. He basically calls it a choke job by the Avs. Maybe I'm an optimist, or maybe I've just been able to get a good night's sleep, but I didn't consider this one a choke job.
I was disappointed, for sure, and most disappointed with the 3rd Hawks goal. It was basically a slow developing 2 on 2.5 since Salei didn't have his stick, but it was still not an odd man rush. Hejduk has become an excellent overall defensive forward (just look at his career +/-), but there appeared to be some miscommunication and he just backed in too far. Ladd should have never been able to get that shot off.
After that goal, the Hawks really turned it on. Calling this part of the game an Avs choke job does not give enough credit to a very talented Hawks team. When they are rolling those top 3 lines and they are all clicking, any opponent is going to have their hands full.
A quiet but important part of the story for this game was the play of Khabibulin. The Avs came out and played well in the first period, and Khabibulin held off some excellent chances by the Avs. It could easily have been 3 or 4 to 1 after the first period. He kept them in the game and the Hawks came out and really clamped down on the Avs in the 2nd period allowing only 3 shots on net.
In the end, the Hawks got better goaltending and were better on special teams. I say they were better on special teams because Byfuglien's winning goal, although technically even strength, came right after Leopold's penalty expired and was a direct result of the pressure they generated on their PP. The Avs had a couple chances on their PP, but were 0 for 5. That's not going to cut it. Especially in the 2nd period when they had 3 minutes of PP time, but only managed a pathetic 3 shots on net for the WHOLE PERIOD. In the NHL, better goaltending and better special teams = a win at least 90% of the time.
Budaj wasn't awful, but he couldn't come up with big saves in the 3rd period. I am beginning to wonder if he needs a night off here at some point. The Avs have 4 road games next week, 2 tough ones against Detroit and Philly and then 2 games they should win against the FLA teams. Their goal should be to have an above .500 road trip which will be difficult, but this team cannot afford to drop below .500 at this point in the season.
Other bits from the game that should be mentioned: Stewart's sweet slapshot goal in the first period. The McLeod-Laperriere-Stewart line was fun to watch, they were the best line overall for the Avalanche. Good for them, but not a positive statement for the rest of the team. The RPM line had a few chances, but was held off the board, and it's not a coincidence that the Avs lost. I am sticking with my opinion that as that line goes, and specifically Smyth, so goes the team.
I didn't notice the Dupuis kid much other than his boarding penalty, and Tjarnqvist was the odd man out with Foote back.
A couple of days off and the the 4 game roadie. They will need to be better to come up with any points against the dreaded Wings and the red hot Flyers.