Mitchell has been a godsend for short-handed Avalanche
Double goal scorer against Calgary has been producing nicely from the third line
The face of the franchise had been absent, yes. (Gabriel Landeskog, with head issues, is sidelined.)
The face of the night, however, belongs to be John Mitchell.
And what a mug it is.
Ten stitches across his lumpy forehead, another four stitches across the swollen bridge of his nose. Two black eyes, yellowing nicely now. All week-old souvenirs from an errant puck during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Because with the Colorado Avalanche down three sturdy regulars — Ryan O’Reilly, Steve Downie, Landeskog — no one was looking for anything pretty.
And the Avs, substituting grit for glitz, smacked down the Calgary Flames 6-3 in National Hockey League action Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Mitchell, with two goals, led the way.
“He’s been a huge addition for us,” said Avs centre Matt Duchene. “He’s filled that third-line role so well . . . stepped up in the absences of some other guys. He’s got an outstanding release and he’s shown it this year.”
Just ask Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff about Mitchell’s shot.
After Jiri Hudler opened the scoring midway through the first period, Mitchell tied the game before the intermission.
Chuck Kobasew, streaking in on the forecheck, had forced Flames defender Chris Butler into a giveaway along the right wall. Mitchell corralled the puck, moved into a better shooting position, and blurred home the 1-1 goal into the top corner at 19:13.
“It’s just about pressure,” said Mitchell. “You pressure a defenceman and that puck is kind of bouncing, kind of rolling, you don’t know how it’s going to come off his stick. And Chuckie’s running at that guy and (Butler) tried to make a quick play, the puck wasn’t lying flat, and it just kind of flubbed. And that’s an opportunity for me to come flying in, skate right into it, and get a shot on net real quick, and hopefully catch the defenceman and the goalie by surprise.”
Then in the second period — after another Hudler goal and the subsequent equalizer from P-A Parenteau — Mitchell scorched in his fourth goal of the season. Again, it was his wingers, Kobasew and Cory McLeod, who provided the dirty work — “Mucking it up,” says Mitchell, “getting some grind time for us” — and it was the veteran centre who provided the whistling-wrister finish.
“It was just a one-timer and in it went,” said Mitchell. “It wasn’t too hard.”
Alex Tanguay squared things 3-3 before the second intermission, but the third period was all Avs — Paul Stastny on the power play at 17:20, Stastny at even strength at 18:49, Parenteau into the empty net at 19:12.
“That’s big for our team — we need Paul going for our team,” said Colorado coach Joe Sacco. “But you can’t overlook the performance from a couple of other guys. I don’t like to single out individuals, but John Mitchell had a real strong game. He did a lot of good things.
“I’m happy for the players. We really battled hard. We just finished four games in six nights. Credit to the guys, they stuck with it for 60 minutes tonight. We found some good energy in the third period, which was good to see.”
But shouldn’t the Avs — undermanned and presumably sagging after losing in Vancouver the previous night — been somewhat easy pickings?
“This was our first game that was a back to back,” said Mitchell. “It was kind of like, ‘Well, how are we going to feel?’ But I mean, my legs felt better tonight than they did last night. And it sure looked like, for most of the boys on the team, it was the same scenario. Guys were pumping their legs, skating, getting in on the forecheck. They were humping back on backchecks.”
Added Duchene: “Maybe we were tired, but it wasn’t so bad. We came in here and realized what was at stake and what we needed to get done. And we got it done. And Jiggy was huge for us.”
Yes, that would be Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 35 years old and still bunting out pucks.
Now a backup goalie, he blocked 25 shots, including a very dangerous one off the stick of Mikael Backlund that would have put the Flames ahead in the third period.
“He was the main reason (it was close) . . . they could’ve had a lot more goals but he kept us in it,” Stastny said of Giguere. “He had no chance on three goals. But they have four or five quality, Grade A chances in the third period and he stopped them.”
The travellers, with only one marker in their past three outings (all losses), were tickled to see a half-dozen tallies on the board.
“It was so nice to finally score more than one goal,” said Duchene. “We had not been able to find much lately. Being able to do that tonight was huge.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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