DENVER – In an emergency start, Jason LaBarbera came to the rescue.
LaBarbera stepped in for starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and stopped 34 shots for his second shutout of the season, helping the Phoenix Coyotes to a 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
The backup goaltender had no inkling he would be in the lineup until he arrived for the morning skate and was told that Bryzgalov had to tend to a family medical issue.
No time to get nervous. No time to be anxious.
Maybe that’s his new strategy—don’t tell LaBarbera he’s in net.
“No kidding,” he said, laughing. “You come to the rink in the morning and you don’t have that nervous energy, you can relax and joke around with the guys, maybe have a little more fun.
“But when you’re playing, you have more focus. You get out there in pre-game skate and get some things accomplished. I had to get my head turned around in a hurry.”
LaBarbera clamped down on the NHL’s fourth-highest scoring team for his second shutout in three starts. He blanked the Dallas Stars on Dec. 26, turning back 30 shots.
In between those two shutouts, though, was a game he’d rather forget. He gave up six goals to the Minnesota Wild and was eager to atone for that performance.
“I knew I really had to come in with a good effort and maybe give the guys a spark,” LaBarbera said. “Just bounce back from such a poor effort.”
Taylor Pyatt provided the offensive spark for the Coyotes, scoring both goals. He had one on a rebound in the first period and then added an empty-netter with 19.2 seconds left to seal the win in front of a small crowd.
“It’s a step in the right direction for us,” Pyatt said. “We’re trying to find some consistency through our game.”
Same goes for the struggling Avalanche, who have dropped three of four.
“We had our chances,” said Paul Stastny, who was back in the lineup after missing a game with flu-like symptoms. “They’re a good, fundamentally sound team.”
LaBarbera was tough throughout, especially in the final minutes when he pushed aside one shot after another.
He also was bailed out by his teammates during a mad scramble in front late in the game when defenceman Derek Morris finally reached into the scrum and knocked the puck into the corner.
The Coyotes had to kill only one penalty.
“As a goalie, I’m laughing back there because 5-on-5 is a lot easier to do,” LaBarbera said.
Craig Anderson was the hard-luck loser, stopping 31 shots in the loss.
“It’s frustrating when you lose, whether it’s 1-0 or 5-4,” he said. “A loss is a loss and you’ve got to be frustrated. But you’ve got to learn from it. I think we played a really good game; we just didn’t generate enough offence.”
When the Avalanche score at least three goals, they typically win. They are 0-13-2 when held to two goals or fewer.
“We’ve got to find a way to get a couple of goals,” Stastny said. “Andy played unbelievable, and if your goalie gives up one goal every game I’d think you’d take that in a heartbeat. It’s not too often that we get shut out, but it happened today.”
Colorado might soon be getting more offensive assistance with forward Chris Stewart nearing a return from a broken hand. He participated in drills with teammates at the morning skate on Thursday.
However, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said there is still no timetable for his return.
Stewart, one of the team’s top scorers, broke his left hand in a fight with Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak on Nov. 27 and was expected to be out four-to-six weeks.
“When you look at that lineup, there’s a lot of young skill over there and they’ve been lighting the league up this year,” LaBarbera said.
But LaBarbera bottled up that high-powered attack.
“LaBarbera stepped in and played a real strong game,” Pyatt said. “He made some big saves at key times in the game. He just stepped up big for us.”
NOTES: The Coyotes recalled G Matt Climie from San Antonio of the AHL to serve as LaBarbera’s backup. … There were only two penalties, one for each side. … Coyotes captain Shane Doan assisted on Pyatt’s second goal, extending his point streak to eight games. … Bryzgalov was expected to rejoin the team Friday at practice.