GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Colorado Avalanche like how they’re playing against some of the NHL’s better teams this month. They’ll find out Saturday night how they match up against the league’s worst-record team.
The Avalanche remain stuck in last place in the Central Division, but they’ve regained a bit of momentum the last couple of weeks after beginning December with four consecutive losses.
They’ve beaten Pittsburgh and Florida twice, dropped a free-flowing 6-5 game against NHL points-leading Tampa Bay and given up a late lead during a 2-1 overtime loss at Western Conference leader Los Angeles that was encouraging except for the result.
The challenge for the Avalanche is to not overlook the Arizona Coyotes in the first matchup of the season between the two Western Conference teams. That could be easy to do, given the Coyotes’ 8-24-5 record — after all, the Washington Capitals appeared to do exactly that during a 3-2 overtime loss at Arizona on Friday.
The Capitals came in with a four-game winning streak, eight wins in nine games and one of the NHL’s best offenses, yet managed only 17 shots while losing despite owning leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Arizona rookie center Clayton Keller won it by scoring off his own rebound with 27 seconds left in overtime.
“That’s a world class team, they’ve got Hall of Famers over there, and for me I liked our defensive effort,” coach Rick Tocchet said after his team won for only the second time in 12 games since Nov. 24.
“We played a very responsible game. We cashed in our chances at the end, and it’s nice to be on the other side of that,” Tocchet said.
Still, the Avalanche (16-15-3) like how they’re playing now, going 4-2-1 since that losing streak. Now, they’d like to go into the three-day Christmas break feeling as if their season is beginning to turn in the right way.
Especially since they play the Coyotes again, in Denver, when both teams resume play Wednesday night.
“We were playing 50 great minutes (against the Kings) and maybe we sat down a little bit in our zone,” defenseman Nikita Zadorov said of that Thursday loss to the Kings. “We didn’t have too much offense up there. But that’s how the game goes. … I felt like we should have won this game. I thought we overplayed them. But they made a good play in overtime to win the game.”
The Avalanche led 1-0 for much of what coach Jared Bednar called “a good, solid game,” but Alec Martinez put a shot by a screened Semyon Varlamov midway through the third period. Dustin Brown won it 44 seconds into overtime by scoring during a Colorado line change.
“Disappointing to get only one point out of it,” Bednar said.
Colorado is getting reliable scoring from forward Nathan MacKinnon, who has 15 goals and 40 points in 34 games, and Tyler Barrie is among the defenseman scoring leaders with four goals and 27 points.
Varlamov is 11-8-2 with a .908 save percentage this season, and 7-6-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average in his career against Arizona.
The Coyotes will start Antti Raanta, who is 4-9-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Against the Avalanche, he is 1-2 with an .889 save percentage, giving up nine goals on 81 shots.
Tocchet and his players were visibly relieved at rallying to beat Washington after poor third-period performances cost them wins against Pittsburgh and Florida in their previous two games.
Christian Dvorak and Christian Fischer scored in the third period for the Coyotes, with FIscher tying it at 2 with only 59 seconds left in regulation and goaltender Scott Wedgewood off for an extra attacker. They dominated the overtime period, outshooting Washington 6-1, before Keller won it.
“We showed how we can play, we just need to do that every night,” Keller said. “We stuck to our game plan, and got a lot of pucks deep. They’ve got a lot of skill players over there, but we just stuck to our plan.”
Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson will return Saturday night after serving a two-game suspension for a boarding penalty on Tampa Bay forward Vladislav Namestnikov on Saturday.