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Canadiens @ Avalanche game recap: Colorado’s stars did what they do against Montreal

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The NHL’s top line tied the score, took the lead, and effectively sealed the game late in the first contest of the road trip.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Starting off what is often a difficult road swing to end the year, the Montreal Canadiens made the first stop on their tour of the Mountain States in Denver, Colorado.

The Colorado Avalanche started off at the peak of the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup in their first season after inheriting what was a good squad from Quebec and adding future Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy to the mix.

In recent years they were far from reaching those lofty heights, and the re-addition of Roy, this time behind the bench, didn’t work to turn things around. As the team failed to rack up wins, they did amass a stockpile of high draft picks. With their top-10 selections in 2011, 2013, and 2015, they picked Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, respectively, and those decisions have paid off in a big way.

All three players are in the top 12 of NHL scoring, with Rantanen (58 points) and MacKinnon (55) right at the top. They’ve been bursting through even the most robust defences the league has to offer.

They posed a major threat for a Canadiens club that had just allowed four goals to a team ranking among the most offensively challenged in the league. If the Canadiens were going to start the road trip off on the right foot, they needed to find a way to contain the top line in the NHL.

It was a good start to the game in that respect, as the MacKinnon line was forced to play its first shift in its own zone. The Canadiens weren’t dictating the play for long however, as the Avalanche got into Montreal’s end for several good shots in the following minutes. The puck was getting into the slot without much resistance, but Carey Price was up to the task, making several phenomenal stops from close range.

A penalty from the Avalanche for a delay of game penalty halted their offensive surge, as Montreal’s power play went to work. This time the Canadiens were able to use it to swing momentum in their favour, as Brendan Gallagher tipped Jeff Petry’s point shot to make it 1-0 for the visiting team.

After stating that Monday’s game versus the Boston Bruins may have been the worst of his NHL career, the Canadiens’ alternate captain ensured that there wouldn’t be a repeat of that performance on a personal level last night.

The Avalanche nearly tied it up later in the period. The puck got behind Price, hitting the post and trickling along the goal line, but Jesperi Kotkaniemi was positioned perfectly at the side of the net, and nonchalantly skated the puck away from danger and out of the zone.

Victor Mete had hit the post early in the first, and his first shift in the second saw him lob a puck into the slot looking for a tip, but it just failed to connect. He was looking good in his first game back from the AHL, and close to getting a point.

In full control of the play, the puck got into Montreal’s zone, sliding to Price just out of the reach of both Jordie Benn and Shea Weber. Price tried to wait for MacKinnon to close on him before backhanding the puck to a more-open Weber, but the puck never made it to its destination as MacKinnon quickly moved over to intercept. Scrambling to get back in his net, Price was in no position to make a save, and Rantanen was the beneficiary of the turnover.

A few power plays for Montreal failed to generate any more goals, despite some good work on the half-wall from Kotkaniemi. With few good options for the rookie to make a pass to, his efforts with the puck were wasted.

Toward the end of the period, the fourth line broke into the zone on an odd-man rush, with Mete in tow. The puck got to Charles Hudon, who passed to Mete, who tossed a lateral pass to Kenny Agostino, but the forward was unable to get the puck past Philipp Grubauer on what was shaping up to be a highlight-reel goal.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

With that chance falling by the wayside, despite launching 14 shots on goal to the Avalanche’s four, the Canadiens went to the intermission in a 1-1 tie.

Any plans they had made to turn that control of possession into a win quickly went out the window at the start of the third as the Avs’ top line struck again. Racing into the zone, it was MacKinnon coming up with the puck once again, this time getting it to Landeskog. Price made the initial save, but was unable to hold the rebound from point-blank range. A bump from the Swede didn’t allow him to rein it back in, while Landeskog was able to deposit the puck into the net.

The goal deflated Montreal, and they weren’t really able to ramp up their intensity until the latter half of the period. Some offensive-zone time got the puck in good positions, but without the prime scoring chances the team was looking for.

They attempted to swap out Price for an extra skater with two minutes left, but turned possession over just at the critical moment of the zone entry when the netminder was nearly to the bench. Both Price and the player looking to replace him came on to defend the ensuing attack, leading to a delay of game penalty. Colorado maintained possession of the puck for nearly a minute with Montreal unable to touch it, leaving themselves with just 66 more seconds to run off the clock, and those while on a power play.

Despite the additional body, the Canadiens still got one final chance in the offensive zone as a shot from Petry just glanced off the side of Grubauer’s helmet and away from the goal.

With the puck back, the Avalanche broke in on the open net, and Gallagher tripped up MacKinnon on his bid to add a goal to his two assists. The infraction prevented the game from being sealed at that moment, but with two players in the box, there was little chance of getting the goal needed to tie the game. A few seconds after the final puck drop, the game ended with a 2-1 decision in Colorado’s favour.

The Canadiens can feel a bit better about their game than the one on Monday, but in the play right around the net they were still outclassed by their opposition. That will need to change if they’re going to prevent a run of consecutive losses from snowballing into a lengthy losing streak.

They get their chance to halt the skid tonight in Arizona when Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk go head-to-head for the first time versus their original NHL clubs.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick