Facing the unfriendly confines of the Air Canada Centre, Liles scored his first two goals of the season to lead Colorado to a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs. Despite inheriting the starring role Wednesday, Liles was quick to give kudos to his supporting cast.
“It was just a good team effort,” said Liles, who helped limit the Leafs to just 28 shots on Avs goalie Peter Budaj. Toronto entered the game averaging a league-leading 38.8 shots per game.
“Everybody stuck with their positioning and we were able to use our sticks to deflect a lot of pucks tonight,” he said. “That was a big thing for us.”
With Blake returning to the L.A. Kings in the off-season, the Avalanche are counting on Liles to pick up some of the offensive slack. His teammates were pleased to see his name littering the scoresheet.
“When they let (Blake) go, the first guy who came to mind offensively was Jean-Michael Liles,” said Avs centre Ian Laperriere. “He’s been playing great all year, and tonight it paid dividends.”
Avs coach Joel Quenneville agreed.
“Johnny’s one of those guys who, in today’s game, is such a nice complement to your team game,” Quenneville said. “He doesn’t score too many goals like he did tonight, but certainly we’ll take them.”
After a 35-assist, 49-point rookie year in 2003-04, Liles’ offensive production fell off last season, with 24 assists and 34 points.
The Zionsville, Ind., native, selected 159th overall by Colorado in the 2000 entry draft, believes it will take a team effort to help make up for Blake’s absence.
“Nobody’s ever going to replace Rob Blake,” said Liles, who now has five points in six games this season. “When everyone found out he wasn’t going to be part of our team, everybody really took it upon themselves that we all have to step up. Everybody’s a big part of trying to fill that void.”
With a three-game road trip that will take the Avs to Ottawa on Thursday and Montreal on Saturday, there was a palpable sense of relief in Colorado’s dressing room after the win, which evened the Avs’ record at 2-2-2.
“It’s never easy when you start with the record we started with,” Liles said. “We needed to put together a solid 60-minute game, and aside from the first couple minutes where (Toronto) was all over us, I think we played pretty solidly.”