He’ll remember the Colorado Avalanche’s 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night for more than just breaking Tim Horton’s durability record for a defenceman. Garnet Exelby’s first goal of the season glanced off Skrastins and went right past goalie Jose Theodore, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period. Maybe he was still a bit touched by the pre-game party.
Skrastins broke Horton’s NHL record for consecutive games by a defenceman when he played in his 487th straight in the regular season. The Avs honoured him with a video tribute that included images of the late Horton, who played from 1950-74, mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was a big game for me, one of the biggest I have ever had and it was very emotional,” Skrastins said. “I was a bit nervous, and after the ceremony I had to put my attention on the game. It would have been happier to win, but hockey is hockey.”
The men most responsible for marring Skrastins’ big night were Kari Lehtonen, who saved a season-best 45 shots, and Vyacheslav Kozlov and Marian Hossa, each of whom had four points.
Theodore had no shot at Exelby’s goal, which gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead and followed goals from Brad Larsen and Kozlov. Those weren’t entirely Theodore’s fault, either.
“I didn’t really get a good look at any of the goals,” said Theodore, who was replaced by Peter Budaj to start the second period.
“We changed the goalie to wake our team up,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville explained.
Bobby Holik set up the Thrashers’ first goal two minutes into the game when Ossi Vaananen fanned on his pass in the slot to Larsen, who one-timed it past Theodore. John-Michael Liles was late picking up Kozlov when he took Hossa’s pass from behind the net and scored his 18th goal.
Hossa and Kozlov each had two goals and two assists.
Hossa scored his 32nd goal, then fed Kozlov again on the power play to give Atlanta a 5-1 lead in the second period.
Skrastins’ 207 blocked shots were second in the NHL last season and his 150 rank third this season. Yet, he was late getting over to defend the play when Hossa skated in unchecked and flipped the puck over Budaj’s right shoulder for a 4-0 advantage.
Kozlov’s second goal made it 5-1 heading into the third period, when Jordan Leopold and Paul Stastny each scored on the power play.
“The game was over by the third period,” Kozlov said. “We played solid for two periods. It might have looked like it was a close game, but in fact we dominated them.”
Lehtonen faced a season-high 48 shots, including 20 in the third period.
“Too many for my liking,” he said. “You’d like to see some, but not this many.”
The Avs yanked Budaj with 2:17 left, and Hossa scored his second goal into an empty net at 18:05.
Before the opening faceoff, Skrastins came out and took a bow as spinning “487” images were shined on the ice. He was joined by his wife, Zane, two of Horton’s four daughters and general manager Francois Giguere during the short ceremony.
Since joining the NHL in 1999 in Nashville, Skrastins, who grew up in Latvia’s capital city of Riga, has missed just one game, on Feb. 18, 2000, when he sat out against St. Louis because of a shoulder injury.
Just three days later, he started his ironman streak – on the 26th anniversary of Horton’s death at age 44 in an automobile accident in St. Catharines, Ont. Horton’s record was established from Feb. 11, 1961, to Feb. 4, 1968.
“I never said to myself I am going to try and play in a lot of games straight. Maybe that is why I have done it,” Skrastins said. “You can’t think about that, you just get ready for one game at a time and just keep playing. I’ll keep going. It will be nice to play quite a few more.”
Ian Laperriere said nobody deserved the mark more than Skrastins.
“He’s the description of face-first, go hard all the time, every shift,” Laperriere said. “When they showed his highlights before the game, there wasn’t too many fancy plays there, just dive in front of the puck. I mean, it’s impressive. I’ve never seen a guy put his body through what he’s putting it through every single night. To have that record, it’s 10 times more impressive than anybody else.”
Notes: The overall NHL record for consecutive games played is 964 set by Doug Jarvis over 13 seasons from 1975-87. … Avs forward Brad May, who has been out the entire season with a shoulder injury, was activated from the injured list.