Smith scores twice, Penguins end Colorado’s NHL-record road winning streak at 15 in 4-0 win
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche spent the last six months essentially invincible on the road and the last two weeks unbeatable anywhere.
It all came to a crashing halt on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The Avalanche’s perfect start is over. Their NHL-record road winning streak too after three periods in which the Penguins provided a glimpse of the team they hope they can become far more regularly than they’ve shown during an uneven start.
Reilly Smith scored twice, Tristan Jarry stopped 31 shots and Pittsburgh snapped Colorado’s road run at 15 games with a decisive 4-0 victory.
“Sooner or later you’re just going to have to break through (the) wall and I think we did a good job and had a team effort tonight,” Smith said.
The Avalanche hadn’t lost away from Ball Arena during the regular season since a 7-3 setback in Dallas on March 4. They never really got it going against Pittsburgh, which showed a commitment to blocking shots and avoiding the kind of risky play that cost them while dropping four of their first six games.
“I think (we were) playing a desperate hockey team that played with a lot of urgency,” Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said. “Even though our intent was OK, like I didn’t feel like we were sleeping or anything, I just felt like for the first 40 minutes, they were on point, physical, highly competitive. We didn’t execute through that at all.”
Smith beat Alexandar Georgiev twice in the first period to put Colorado down multiple goals for the first time all season. Lars Eller added his first goal for Pittsburgh in the second period and Sidney Crosby scored his fourth goal midway through the third. Jarry did the rest while picking up his 15th career shutout.
Georgiev, making his seventh start in seven games, stopped 19 of 23 shots before exiting after Crosby’s goal put the game out of reach 10:35 into the third. Georgiev’s personal road winning streak ended at 12, leaving him in a tie for the longest road winning streak by a goaltender in league history, set by Eddie Johnston with Boston in 1971.
Colorado started the night with an NHL-best plus-16 goal differential but fell behind in the opening minutes for the first time all season couldn’t find a way back.
“Obviously they played a hard game,” Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar said. “I just don’t think we played up to our standards tonight in terms of playing fast and hard.”
Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with Vegas, has been one of the bright spots during a rocky opening two weeks for a team trying to get back to the postseason after missing it last spring for the first time since 2006. He’s found an instant chemistry with Evgeni Malkin on the second line and gave the Penguins the early lead when his wrist shot from the slot zipped over Georgiev’s glove 4:40 into the game.
Malkin did most of the hard work later in the period, carrying the puck in on a 2-on-1 that ended with Malkin dishing the puck to Smith at the doorstep. Smith’s fourth goal of the season at 16:51 also gave the Avalanche their first multi-goal deficit of the year.
The Penguins, the NHL’s oldest team, have had trouble playing with sustained effort and avoiding defensive lapses. That wasn’t an issue against the Avalanche after Eller’s first goal of the season 6:00 into the second made it 3-0.
Colorado’s best chance to get back in it came late in the second period when Malkin was given a double-minor penalty for high sticking. Yet the Avalanche spent four minutes struggling to generate any momentum and ultimately finished 0 for 5 with the man advantage while failing to match the franchise’s first 7-0-0 start since 1985 when the club was known as the Quebec Nordiques.
“It’s a learning lesson for all the new guys,” Makar said. “We’re going to lose at some point.”
Avalanche: Wrap up a three-game road trip in Buffalo on Sunday.
Penguins: Continue a four-game homestand on Saturday when Ottawa visits.
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