By Leif Skodnick
UNIONDALE, NY – A small adjustment in strategy garnered big results for the Colorado Avalanche, as they defeated the New York Islanders 5-2 behind two goals from Matt Duchene at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
Charging out of the gate, the Islanders controlled the pace of play early in the first period. Colorado goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere held fast, stopping an early wrist shot from the right wing by the Isles’ Frans Nielsen and a nifty tip-in try by Thomas Vanek.
Busy chasing the Islanders in their own end, Colorado barely tested Islanders starter Evgeni Nabokov, mustering only two shots in the first 10 minutes.
Knowing that the Islanders were taking advantage of a hole in the Avalanche forecheck to break out, Roy adjusted the positioning of his forwards.
“When we started to have a better gap between our three forwards, we started to play better,” said Roy.
Quickly stepping out of the corner, Gabriel Landeskog shifted the game’s momentum when he walked out of the right wing corner and fired a quick shot that was stopped by Nabokov. The rebound bounced directly to teammate Nathan MacKinnon. With Nabokov still on the ice and sliding across the crease, MacKinnon, who leads the NHL’s rookies in scoring, fired Colorado’s fourth shot of the game into a yawning net to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 13:04.
The 1-0 lead helped the Avalanche calm down, according to Giguere, who stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period.
“They came out really fast, they were moving the puck and shooting the puck hard,” Giguere said. “Sometimes all you need is that goal to get you a cushion, get you up on your toes instead of being on your heels.”
The effect of Roy’s adjustment was visible in the second period, when the Avalanche held the Islanders to just four shots on goal. As the Avalanche dominated play in the second frame, forward Matt Duchene finally was able to break a long scoring slumo that that saw him find the net just once in his last 23 games.
Duchene took former Islander P.A. Parenteau’s breakout pass in the neutral zone and streaked into the Islanders end, beating Islanders center Brock Nelson to the outside. Walking in on goal, Duchene didn’t see much to shoot at, so he fired at Nabokov. The puck hit the Islander goalie in the chest and bounced back out to Duchene, who whacked the rebound under Nabokov’s left pad for a 2-0 Avalanche lead at 7:49 of the second. The goal was the 100th of Duchene’s NHL career.
Roy was not concerned about Duchene’s lack of goal scoring during that string.
“People make a big story out of that, but not me. It was just a matter of time,” Roy said. “He was resilient, he went to the net, stayed there and took advantage of the rebound.”
Less than four minutes later, Tyson Barrie tossed a cross-ice pass through traffic to Duchene’s stick blade. Looking at Nabokov, Duchene saw a small hole. He fired a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle that beat Nabokov over the left shoulder at 10:33.
“I really was just trying to fire at the net,” said Duchene, who will play for Canada at the Olympics. “I feel like I’ve taken a million of those shots the last little while and they haven’t gone in.”
The Islanders seven-game power play drought ended in the third period. One minute into a five-on-three, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky fired a slapshot that Giguere stopped, but Josh Bailey slid the rebound over to John Tavares, who fired it home for his 24th goal of the season at 11:17.
Just over a minute later, the Islanders garnered a second two-man advantage when Colorado’s Erik Johnson slashed Nielsen at 12:09. Kyle Okposo won the offensive zone faceoff back to Vanek at the top of the circle. Vanek slid the puck to Visnovsky, who blasted a slap shot high over Giguere’s right shoulder, cutting Colorado’s lead to one.
Colorado would add an empty-net goal from Gabriel Landeskog at 19:13. With Nabokov on the bench, Colorado was awarded a goal at 19:58 of the third period when Thomas Vanek threw his stick at Paul Stastny’s bid for the empty cage. The goal was awarded to Stastny.
The loss pushed the Islanders eight games under .500, at 22-30-8 heading into the Olympic break. The Avalanche are 37-16-5 with 79 points, five points back of Central Division leaders Chicago and St. Louis.