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Avalanche continue to buck the numbers

Friday, 01.22.2010 / 10:11 AM / Inside the Numbers

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Avalanche continue to buck the numbers
The Colorado Avalanche entered the weekend averaging an NHL-low 26.4 shots on goal per game and are still tops in the Northwest Division.
The Colorado Avalanche continue to defy the numbers.

The Avs are among the NHL's biggest surprises this season. After finishing last in the West and 28th in the overall standings in 2008-09, they are on top of the Northwest Division this season and third in points in the Western Conference.

More amazingly, they're doing it despite being outshot on a nightly basis.

The Avs entered the weekend averaging an NHL-low 26.4 shots on goal per game, while surrendering 32.3 -- putting them 26th among the 30 teams in shots allowed. The only clubs to surrender more shots per game are Montreal, Atlanta, Anaheim and Florida, all of whom are outside the top eight in their conferences.

In the four seasons since play resumed after the work stoppage in 2005, no team has come close to making the playoffs -- let alone win a division title -- with a shot differential even close to the minus-5.9 the Avs are putting up. The closest was the 2006-07 Nashville Predators, who made the postseason despite giving up an average of 3.6 shots more than they took every game. The 2007-08 Philadelphia Flyers (minus-3.0) were the only other team since 2005 to make the postseason with a differential of more than minus-3 per game.

Also, no team has made the playoffs while finishing last in shots on goal in more than a decade. The Avs enter the weekend averaging 1.3 shots per game less than 29th-place Montreal.

So how are they doing it? Mostly, it's a credit to the play of goaltender Craig Anderson, who was signed as a free agent last summer and given the starting job.

In 2008-09, the Avs got substandard goaltending. Peter Budaj had a .899 save percentage in 56 games and backup Andrew Raycroft was at .892 in 31 appearances. Anderson has carried the load this season, posting a .921 save percentage in 41 games. Budaj, relegated to a backup role, has also excelled with a .925 save percentage in his 11 appearances. The Avs' team save percentage of .918 is fifth in the NHL; last season's .894 percentage tied them with Detroit for 28th, ahead of only Toronto at .885.

A rare "Blue" night in Montreal --
Wins in Montreal have been few and far between for the St. Louis Blues, which had to make Wednesday's 4-3 overtime victory on Wednesday a little sweeter.

Andy McDonald's OT goal gave the Blues just their 13th win in Montreal since entering the NHL in 1967. Though St. Louis has won four of its five visits since the turn of the century, the Blues are still 13-41 with 7 ties. And equally amazing -- since Glenn Hall won back-to-back visits in 1969-70, no St. Louis goaltender has won more than once in Montreal.

Perhaps it wasn't surprising that Paul Kariya had one of the Blues' three first-period goals. Kariya now has 10 for the season -- and all 10 have been scored away from home.

A first for the Leafs -- When you've been around as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs, there's not a lot of "new" things to see. But Leafs fans did get to see a first Monday night -- the first victory by their team in Nashville. Toronto's 4-3 win at the Sommet Center was its first in Music City since the Predators entered the NHL in 1998. Not that they've had a lot of chances; this was just Toronto's third trip to Nashville, while the Predators have made eight trips to the Air Canada Centre.

No thanks -- The next time the New York Islanders are awarded a penalty shot, don't blame them for wanting to decline.

New York's Kyle Okposo failed on a penalty shot in Tuesday's 6-4 loss at Pittsburgh, making the 17th time in their last 18 tries since the start of the 2000-01 season that the Isles failed to score on a penalty shot. The lone success was by Ryan Smyth on March 13, 2007. Okposo has accounted for two of the misses, as have Doug Weight, Miroslav Satan and Brad Isbister.

Maybe the Isles need to get a penalty shot at Madison Square Garden. MSG is the only Atlantic Division arena they've been able to win at since Scott Gordon took over as coach last season. The Isles are 3-2-0 at the Garden -- but 0-14-1 at New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

At last --
Alex Ovechkin can probably empathize with Okposo. Ovechkin missed on the first five penalty shots of his career before beating Philadelphia's Ray Emery on Sunday in Washington's 5-3 win against the Flyers.

The goal also removed Ovi from a club he'd rather not be in -- he was tied with Greg Adams, Zigmund Palffy and Brett Hull for the most penalty shots in a career without scoring.

Comeback kids --
Never count out the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim trailed 4-3 entering the third period of Sunday's home game against Calgary, but scored twice for a 5-4 victory. It was the fourth time this season that the Ducks have won in regulation after trailing through 40 minutes -- and the third time in 11 days. They beat St. Louis on Jan. 7 and Boston four days later.

The victory vs. the Flames also extended the Ducks' winning streak against Calgary at the Honda Center to 11 games -- one of three 11-game home winning streaks active in the NHL. Dallas' 4-3 win over Minnesota on Monday was the Stars' 11th in a row over the Wild at the American Airlines Center, and the Wild has won 11 in a row over the Edmonton Oilers at the Xcel Energy Center. The longest current home streak belongs to Nashville, which has won 13 in a row over Columbus at the Sommet Center.

Playing from behind -- The Columbus Blue Jackets are going to have to play tighter defense at the start of games if they hope to get back in the playoff race.

The Jackets have given their opponents a fast start in each of their last six games, surrendering a goal within the first 2:30 each time. The Boston Bruins needed just 2:11 to score on Thursday night, though Columbus rallied for a 3-2 win -- their second in the six-game stretch.
Quote of the Day

The old saying in hockey is 'weather the storm.' I put the notion in their heads that we don't want to weather the storm, we want to push just as hard and matched their work ethic. I thought our guys exceeded that in the first period.

— Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins after their loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday
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