DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche aren’t the star-studded team they were a month ago, but the fill-in players are doing just fine.
Cody McCormick, one of five callups from the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, scored with 9:10 left in the third period to help the Avalanche beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Sunday night.
“We knew back in training camp the depth in the organization,” said Andrew Brunette, whose goal 1:34 after McCormick’s sealed the win. “They’ve come up in great shape and are playing like veterans. We need that now with all the energy.”
The Avalanche have had a rash of injuries. Captain Joe Sakic missed his 12th straight game because of a groin injury, and Tyler Arnason (wrist), Brad Richardson (shoulder) and Kurt Sauer (neck) also are on the injured list, which has forced the team to poach from the AHL.
So far, it hasn’t hurt. The Avalanche are 5-0-1 in their last six games and moved into a tie for first place with the Canucks in the Northwest Division.
“We have a lot of momentum right now,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “No matter who is out on the ice, players are contributing.”
It showed on McCormick’s goal. With the game tied at 1, Ben Guite and Henrik Sedin battled for the puck on the left boards. Sedin got the puck, but McCormick took it off his stick and fired a shot past Roberto Luongo.
“There were a few guys right in front of me,” said Luongo, who had 29 saves in his first regulation loss since a 2-1 setback at Minnesota on Dec. 2. “I didn’t see it until it was in. It was practically a perfect shot.”
McCormick, who had two goals in the last three games, is feeling more confident in his latest tour with Colorado. After playing 45 games with the Avalanche two seasons ago, he played a majority of last season and the start of this season in the AHL. He was called up Nov. 13, and he has tried to make his mark with this stint.
“I am becoming the hockey player I want to be,” he said. “Joe Sakic has helped me to finding the right positioning. That will provide some offensive opportunities and it means more minutes.”
Less than two minutes after McCormick scored, Brunette gave Colorado some breathing room with his sixth goal of the season with 7:36 left.
“Brunette gave us a huge power-play goal,” Quenneville said.
It came against a tired Canucks team that won a shootout game in Phoenix on Saturday night.
“I thought our guys did everything they could,” Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We gave ourselves a chance, 1-1 going into the third and we had a couple of mistakes there. There was just not enough left in the tank for a team that was just waiting for us. This month of December has been one of the most challenging I’ve ever been a part of – seven games in 11 nights.”
Despite fatigue, the Canucks almost had the lead after two periods. Alexander Edler hit the right post with a slap shot from the point, and Peter Budaj had to make several saves to keep the game tied heading into the third. He finished with 21 saves.
“We had a lot of chances in the second period,” Sedin said. “We’ve got to score more – that’s the bottom line.”
Nobody scored until Marek Svatos knocked in Jaroslav Hlinka’s rebound 3:29 into the second period to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. Hlinka’s rebound came to the charging Svatos, who directed it past Luongo with the heel of his stick while Sami Salo was draped on his back.
The Canucks tied it on a power play three minutes later when Taylor Pyatt backhanded Byron Ritchie’s rebound over Budaj’s left shoulder.
Ryan Kesler nearly gave the Canucks a lead 90 seconds later, but his wraparound shot skidded past the front of the Colorado net.
Neither team had many quality chances in the penalty-filled first period. Both teams were whistled for three minors, including two Avalanche penalties that carried over to the second. Luongo stopped 11 shots and Budaj five in a scoreless first.
Notes: Quenneville said F Ryan Smyth (neck) is progressing and could play Thursday night against Detroit. … Colorado is 15-3-0 at home, its best mark at Christmas since the club moved to Denver in 1995. … Brunette has appeared in 407 straight games, the second longest active streak in the NHL. … Vigneault said Ohlund was held out of Sunday’s game as a precaution.