Nikita Zadorov sat calmly at his Pepsi Center locker stall Friday after what might of been the most costly game of his young NHL career. The 22-year-old defenseman firmly held himself responsible for the Avalanche’s 2-1 loss to the visiting New Jersey Devils, and he was prepared to deal with it by being accountable.
Most players in his position probably would have run for the showers. Zadorov was in no hurry.
“It’s on me. It was a mistake. Cost us the game,” Zadorov said of his unsightly turnover that directly led to the Devils’ first goal. “I think I made a bad play on the second goal as well. I’m taking all the responsibility. It’s on me.”
Suddenly, the Avalanche is on the ropes at home. Colorado came out flat against New Jersey and was outplayed in the decisive third period against the Devils, who broke a 1-1 tie with a late power-play goal. Zadorov felt he should have prevented 6-foot-7 forward Brian Boyle from swatting in a rebound from the crease for the game-winning goal.
The Avs, who fell to 8-3-1 at home, are now 1-2 in a five-game homestand that continues Sunday against Dallas. Colorado has failed to score three goals in regulation during the homestand, after averaging nearly four in its first nine games on home ice.
“For me, we had a great second period. Hated our first, stood around, weren’t physical. They out-skated us, out-worked us,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “We addressed it after the first and I thought we responded.”
The Devils took a 2-1 lead 6:11 into the third period on Boyle’s power-play goal. With Avs defenseman Mark Barberio in the penalty box for holding, Boyle cashed in on a loose puck in the crease after goalie Semyon Varlamov failed to catch it with his glove or pounce on it on the paint. Taylor Hall put the puck on net for the primary assist.
The teams were tied 1-1 entering the third period. Following a scoreless first period, the Devils took the lead with Jesper Bratt’s unassisted goal at 13:58 of the second period. Zadorov inadvertently passed the puck to Bratt, a blunder that could have been miscommunication with partner Tyson Barrie. It wasn’t, Zadorov later confirmed.
Zadorov chased after a loose puck behind Varlamov and blindly back-handed it into the circle where Barrie was skating towards. But Bratt was between Zadorov and Barrie, and he took the gift pass from Zadorov and pounded it into an open net. Varlamov seemingly wasn’t expecting Zadorov to make that play because he was hugging the far post, which is why Bratt had an open net to shoot at.
“He went back. He had time,” Bednar said of Zadorov. “He checked his shoulder early and then he didn’t look again. He just threw it out there and put it right on the guy’s tape and it ends up in the back of our net. We got to back him up, stick together — guys make mistakes all over the ice; that just happens to be a glaring one. Usually if the other team is scoring a goal it’s because someone’s made a mistake. I don’t treat it any differently.”
The Avs responded on the power play at 17:11, shortly after Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy was penalized for hooking. J.T. Compher scored from inside the right circle, slapping at a loose puck after a defender blocked Alex Kerfoot’s shot from the same area.
Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play in a ho-hum first period. As the home team, the Avs looked unenthusiastic, while the Devils played a decent period on the road.
“You can’t start games like that in this league,” Compher said. “We addressed it and came out in the second and had a better period.”
The Avalanche continues its five-game homestand Sunday night against the Stars. The Avs host Buffalo on Tuesday before beginning a four-game road trip Thursday at Tampa Bay.