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Fleury shuts Avs out again to tie series between Cup contenders

There’s no shame in losing a hockey game to a quality team. There’s no shame in losing to a hot goalie.

On Monday at Ball Arena in Denver, the Avalanche did both in a 3-0 loss as Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury dismissed 34 Colorado shots with prejudice, while Vegas evened their season series at two games apiece — both wins courtesy of Fleury shutouts.

“Obviously, Fleury’s always going to have a good night, and you have to be prepared for that,” noted Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. “But I think this one lies on us more than anything.”

While that’s a matter of perspective, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar called his team “sluggish” on Monday, and it was hard to disagree… at least defensively.

The Avalanche outshot the Golden Knights by six shots, but for the most part, the Knights’ chances were of higher quality and supplemented by a little luck; their second goal came off an unfortunate bounce off rookie blueliner Bowen Byram’s skate. Byram’s disappointment was evident, but in the end, it made little difference in the game’s outcome.

As Fleury gained confidence throughout the game, the Avalanche got a bit too clever on offense, making unnecessary passes instead of taking clean shots; indications that Fleury’s play was getting into Colorado’s heads a bit. Matt Calvert disagreed with that assessment after the game.

“Fleury was good, but that wasn’t our best effort,” the forward said. “We got a lot of our chances in the third period, when they were sitting back and defending a 3-0 lead. We can’t come out in a game like that against a top team in the league. For whatever reason, we didn’t have our legs and weren’t putting in the work right off the bat. It cost us in the end.”

The Avalanche (9-5-1, 19 points) will get four more chances to even the score with Fleury and the first-place Knights. But after missing out on an golden opportunity to make progress in the tightly packed West division, they’ll have to focus on the rival Minnesota Wild (9-6-0, 18 points) who visit Denver on Wednesday with an opportunity to pass them by with a win.

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NEXT UP: Avalanche (9-5-1, 19 pts) vs. Minnesota Wild (9-6-0, 18 pts) | Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m.

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TEAM NOTES

• The Avalanche failed to score on their only power-play opportunity of the night, extending their perplexing streak of futility to 16 straight.

• Despite being shut out on Monday, the Avalanche outshot the Golden Knights, 34 to 28. Despite a furious third-period rally that saw them fire 15 shots at Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the veteran goaltender held firm to earn his 64th career shutout, good for 15th place all-time.

• Wednesday’s game against the Wild will make up the Feb. 4 game that was postponed due both teams’ COVID-19 breakouts. The Avalanche won two of their previous three games.

• Due to the need to make up their four postponed games, the Avs will play 22 games over the next 40 days, including nine in the next 15.

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PLAYER NOTES

• Bowen Byram was the unfortunate recipient of some bad luck in when Alex Tuch’s shot on goal was deflected by Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer and landed only millimeters in front of Byram’s skate, bouncing off of it and directly into Colorado’s goal. Tuch’s goal was the Golden Knights’ second of the night — and the second of the night for Tuch, as well.

• Nathan MacKinnon played his 539th game in an Avalanche sweater to move past Paul Statsny and reach 10th place all-time in appearances for the team. Hall-of-Famer Peter Forsberg, with 544, is currently in ninth place.

• Philipp Grubauer entered Monday’s game leading the NHL in both goals-against average and save percentage, but allowed three goals against the Knights. Grubauer has been something of an ironman for the Avalanche, starting 13 of their 15 games this season.

• Ryan Graves led the team in shots with five, representing both his season-high and the discombobulated Avalanche offense in their shutout loss Monday.

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THE FINAL WORD

“I did not love us defensively. They won the bulk of the races and the bulk of the battles. We looked sluggish.” — Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, on Monday’s shutout loss to the Golden Knights.

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INJURY WATCH

• Dennis Gilbert (facial injury) was placed on injured reserve on Feb. 20. He is expected to be out until at least late March.

• Kiefer Sherwood (unspecified) missed the Feb. 16 game and has not played since.

• Erik Johnson (upper-body injury) left the Jan. 30 game and is week-to-week.

• Matt Calvert (concussion symptoms) has not played since Jan. 24. On Jan. 28, coach Jared Bednar said he will be cautious regarding his timetable for return.

• Pavel Francouz (lower-body injury) has yet to play this season and remains on injured reserve.

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LAST NIGHT’S LINES

FORWARDS:
Top Line: LW Andre Burakovsky, C Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen
Second Line: LW Brandon Saad, C Nazem Kadri, RW Joonas Donskoi
Third Line:, LW Gabriel Landeskog, C J.T. Compher, RW Tyson Jost
Fourth Line: LW Valeri Nichushkin, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW Matt Calvert

DEFENSEMEN:
Top Pair: LD Devon Toews, RD Cale Makar
Second Pair: LD Samuel Girard, RD Ryan Graves
Third Pair: LD Bowen Byram, RD Conor Timmins

GOALTENDERS:
Starter: Philipp Grubauer