Four goals from three Swedes and terrific goaltending from Jonathan Bernier carried Colorado to a memorable 6-1 New Year’s Eve victory that featured a plethora of highlights for a team on the rise.
“Good all-around team effort by our group,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.
The Avs (19-16-3), who aren’t yet to the 41-game midpoint of their season, are now just three victories shy of matching what they amassed in the disaster that was the 2016-17 season. What was NHL’s worst team last season — by far — suddenly stands just three points outside a playoff spot with games in hand over many of the teams in front of it.
Colorado’s 41 points are just seven shy of what it produced last season.
“There’s progress, for sure,” Bednar said. “You take a game like tonight. We build the lead. We do a lot of good things. We got some puck luck around the net, we got hungry in the interior of the ice and scored some goals. The things that our guys are saying on the bench, our leadership and guys chiming in with our puck decisions … They’re positive signs that we’re trying to do the right things and play the right way all the time.”
The Islanders (20-15-4), who trailed 5-0 after two periods, lost head coach Doug Weight to a game misconduct during Colorado’s four-goal middle frame. New York was given a bench minor for abuse of officials, and the Avs scored on the ensuing power play.
Third-line center Carl Soderberg (goal, two points) was outstanding, and fellow Swede Gabe Landeskog (two power-play goals, assist) also shined. Swedish countryman Patrik Nemeth had Colorado’s first goal, and the Avs were 3-of-3 in penalty killing to extend their club-record streak to 11 games (32-of-32).
“Special teams, again, were real good — continue to be good at home,” Bednar said. “The buy-in on our penalty kill is great.”
First-line center Nathan MacKinnon had three assists to climb within the top five of league scorers. Landeskog was the team’s choice as No. 1 star of the game, but Soderberg was the Avs’ best forward. He and wingers Matt Nieto and Blake Comeau were responsible for creating the first two goals of the second period.
“The way Carl’s line was playing set the bar high for the rest of us, and obviously Bernie made some real solid saves — big ones when we needed them,” Landeskog said. “We just have to keep doing the little things right. That’s what we’re talking about in the locker room, that’s what we’re doing and we’re getting rewarded for it.”
Soderberg assisted on Nieto’s goal that gave Colorado a 2-0 lead 5:25 into the second period and then scored at 12:30 as the Avs jumped ahead 3-0. Soderberg drew the interference penalty that led to Landeskog’s first power-play goal at 16:35, at which point Weight erupted on the bench and was ejected. Shortly thereafter, former University of Denver defenseman Scott Mayfield cross-checked MacKinnon into the boards to send the Avs on a two-man advantage, and Landeskog scored again just nine seconds later.
“We came out strong. We played good all over the ice,” Soderberg said. “We deserved this one.”
The Avs continue their six-game homestand Tuesday against Central Division rival Winnipeg. Colorado is 2-1 on the homestand and 12-7-1 overall at the Pepsi Center.