Los Angeles Kings cling to early lead, beat Avalanche 5-2

Playoff contenders are getting in the Avalanche’s way as the home stretch arrives.

For the second time on home ice this season, the Avs sputtered against the Los Angeles Kings, losing 5-2 after twice coming close to climbing out of two-goal deficits.

Los Angeles scored twice to double the lead in the third period before clinching the win with a late empty-netter. Colorado (35-22-6) has lost four of the last five, all to teams in the NHL playoff picture.

The Avalanche excelled on one side of the special teams coin Thursday, but they left a lot to be desired on the other side. After holding Los Angeles to 0-for-3 on the power play, they’ve now killed 15 consecutive penalties and 37 of the last 41 (90%), dating back 13 games. Sam Girard made a remarkable play to prevent a high-danger scoring chance in the second period, stretching his stick to intercept a pass then clearing the zone. During a first-period kill, Alexandar Georgiev made an exceptional bail-out save on a shot from point blank.

The man advantage was an eye sore until the third, though. The Kings clogged every passing lane and suffocated Colorado on the blue line. On two second-period power plays, the Avalanche’s top unit alone failed to set up in the offensive zone seven different times, forced to reset for a new zone-entry every 15 seconds. Between those two opportunities, Colorado totaled one shot on goal. Los Angeles registered two. It was a penalty-killing clinic.

Third try was the charm. Once the Avs finally managed to settle in the zone, they took advantage with a snipe from Nathan MacKinnon. It was 3-2 with 15:36 remaining. But the power play only provided life for 15 seconds before Phillip Danault scored from deep.

The problems that beset the Avalanche were the opposite of what hounded them during their recent three-game winless streak. During that stretch, Jared Bednar was displeased with Colorado’s defensive coverage even in the 3-2 loss to Seattle. (That’s to say nothing of the consecutive seven-goal games that preceded it.)

This loss was more about what the Avs couldn’t create for themselves, rather than what they conceded. The top line struggled to generate chances. When someone provided a net-front presence, throwing pucks on net often proved rewarding. Evan Rodrigues screened Joonas Korpisalo and deflected a Sam Girard shot to get Colorado on the scoreboard. Artturi Lehkonen took away Korpisalo’s vision on MacKinnon’s goal.

The Avalanche didn’t allow a shot on goal in the first eight minutes for a second consecutive game, but this time, the first shot was more than a shot. Los Angeles converted a 2-on-1, then Gabriel Vilardi uncorked a wicked shot from a tight angle to establish the two-goal lead by first intermission.

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