Nick Holden was the last, and perhaps most unlikely, member of the Colorado Avalanche to get undressed on Saturday after his team's 5-4 win against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
Holden, a defenseman who entered the game with two goals in 27 NHL games, first had to do a postgame interview with local television after scoring twice and adding an assist. He then entered the locker room to good-natured ribbing from his teammates for the crowd of media members who awaited him.
"He's been like this since the start," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "He's been very impressive. I mean, training camp came, we signed him as a call-up and he came to the camp, played so well. I said, 'Hey, listen, you're going to start with us' and it's been like this. He's been very patient at the beginning of the year, didn't play much.
"Lately he's had his opportunity and he's taken advantage of it. What I like, I like his speed, he's jumping in the rush well and, you know what, his game is improving defensively, as well, and I'm very happy for him as well."
The 26-year-old Holden played only two years of major junior and was never drafted but worked his way up through the American Hockey League. He played five games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010-11 and two more last season before breaking through with Colorado this season. He has four goals, six assists and an even rating in 21 games.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder was self-effacing after his big night.
"I think the goals are good plays by my teammates," he said. "I think every game somebody else is stepping up. We've gone through a lot of injuries and it's kind of showed the adversity from our team here to battle through it. …
"It's different guys every night, and tonight it was luckily me."
Holden earned the primary assist on Matt Duchene's power-play goal at 6:31 of the third period that ended up being the game-winner, as Nashville rallied for three late goals late but came up one short. Holden's teammates noted that he almost scored on that power play, which would have given him a hat trick.
"He played unbelievable," Paul Stastny said. "… Almost had the hat trick there, didn't get it but [Duchene] picked up his rebound and I think that ended up being the game-winning goal."
The Avalanche improved to 31-12-5, including 5-0-1 in their past six games and 8-1-2 in their past 11.
They jumped on Nashville (21-22-7) for three quick goals in the first period, spoiling the Predators debut of goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was acquired on Wednesday in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Dubnyk finished with 24 saves but trailed 3-0 12:05 into the game.
The Avalanche took advantage of some defensive confusion by the Predators to score at 6:21 of the first period. Colorado unleashed three shots in a span of 12 seconds, the first a 50-foot slap shot from Holden. Later, Holden skated in from the point and put in a rebound of Nathan MacKinnon's backhander, which deflected to the opposite side of the ice and left the goal wide open. The secondary assist went to Stastny, who missed the previous two games with a leg injury.
Another Colorado defenseman, Jan Hejda, scored to make it 2-0 with 8:33 left in the first. Hejda's slap shot from near the right boards eluded Dubnyk to the wide side, looking as if it deflected off Nashville's Eric Nystrom.
Colorado capitalized on more sloppy defensive play by Nashville and took a three-goal lead 38 seconds later. Gabriel Landeskog scored his 14th goal from below the right faceoff dot after Nashville had full control but could not clear the zone. Again, assists went to MacKinnon and Stastny.
"We played good," Stastny said of his line. "It's good to be back. Hadn't been back in a while."
After that third goal, Nashville coach Barry Trotz called his timeout and appeared to read his team the riot act.
"I just said it's all about our 1-on-1 battles," Trotz said. "We had a couple of guys who weren't battling very hard, especially around our net. You've got to what we call boxing out. You've got to tie up people. They were just manhandling a couple of our defense tonight. I just thought they were real light and running around for no reason."
Rookie defensemen Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm, who played as a pairing, each finished minus-3. Trotz also was not pleased with the play of the forward line of Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist, who finished a combined minus-5.
Nashville pulled within 3-1 late in the second period with the help of a two-minute 5-on-3 power play. Landeskog received a an elbowing penalty for a high hit on Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, and Erik Johnson went off for roughing after he intervened when Nashville's Paul Gaustad went after Landeskog. The Predators got on the board 35 later when Fisher fed Hornqvist in the goalmouth for Hornqvist's 10th. The Predators could not score on the second half of the power play.
Nashville thought it scored its second goal before the end of the period, but a video review confirmed that time had run out.
Holden scored his second of the game at 2:31 of the third period with a slap shot that trickled through Dubnyk's left pad. Four minutes later, Duchene made it 5-1 when he fired from a steep angle and his shot went between Dubnyk's back and the post.
Dubnyk was not at his best. Trotz said he thought Dubnyk looked "nervous and rusty."
"I know Devan Dubnyk," Trotz said. "He's been in the League a long time. I've seen a lot better games from him. He'll get better. His first game I know he was nervous. We gave him very little support early and he just looked like he was nervous after that."
Dubnyk appeared disappointed in his effort.
"Usually what I bring to the table is a calmness and a presence and I relax back there, giving the guys a nice settling feeling," he said. "And I think, obviously, there's a lot going on and was real excited to get out there and play with this group. I think there's a little bit too much thinking going on, on my part, and not enough just going out and trusting and playing hockey. It's disappointing to see an effort like that out of this group and not be able to help them to two points."
Nashville's rally began with 11:46 left when Craig Smith stuffed home the rebound of Roman Josi's shot for his team-leading 15th goal to make it 5-2. Ellis scored on a slap shot from the point with 7:15 to go, and Josi scored his fifth of the season with 2:57 remaining on a rebound to pull the Predators within one.
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