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Avalanche Off To A Great Start

by Brendan McNicholas / Colorado Avalanche
So far, so good for the Colorado Avalanche. 

Or maybe so far, so great.

At 6-1-1, the Avalanche sits atop not only the Northwest Division but the entire Western Conference with 13 points. Sure it’s early, but a start like this is exactly what the team needed after struggling in 2008-09.

“It’s a good start,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco.  “I’m proud of the effort we’ve given night-in and night-out.  We have a long season to go, but we’re pleased with where we are as a team right now.”

Just how good of a beginning has it been? Well, consider that the Avalanche is off to its second-best start since moving to Denver 14 years ago.  And that’s saying something for an organization that won two Stanley Cups, two Presidents’ Trophies, eight consecutive division championships and made six appearances in Western Conference Finals during that time span.

The only other Avalanche club to start better was the 2000-01 Stanley Cup Championship team, who went 6-0-2-0 for 14 points on their way to the league’s best record that season.
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So what’s the secret to success thus far? For one, goaltending. Avalanche netminder Craig Anderson has started all eight games, posting a 6-1-1 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Monday, the second time in three weeks he’s garnered that honor. 

“He’s been very solid so far,” said Sacco.  “Craig has given us a chance to win every game and that’s all you can ask out of your goaltender.”

Anderson has helped Colorado rank fifth in the league in team goals-against average at 2.08.  The offense has clicked as well, averaging 3.38 goals-per-game, ninth best in the NHL.  And the specialty teams have also been sharp, as the power-play unit ranks fourth at 30.3% with the penalty kill unit seventh at 85.3%.

Statistics like that are a big reason why Colorado is where it is in the early going.  But the story of this year’s team is youth. And there’s plenty of it.

The Avalanche boasts two 18-year-old centers in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.  The duo has appeared in all eight games so far this year, which includes power play and penalty killing time, as well as key minutes late in games.

Duchene, the third overall pick in June, scored his first NHL goal on Saturday night in Detroit and has four points (1g/3a) while averaging 16:58 of ice time per night.  O’Reilly, who was the club’s second-round pick (33rd overall), has six points (1g/5a) while leading the team in faceoff percentage at 54.0%.

Duchene and O’Reilly are joined up the middle by T.J. Galiardi and Paul Stastny, who are 21 and 23-years-old respectively.  No wonder the Avs are the NHL’s fourth-youngest team.

Defensively, 24-year-old Kyle Quincey ranks among the league’s top scoring defensemen with six points (1g/5a).  Quincey, who was acquired from Los Angeles over the summer, leads the club in ice time at 25:13 per game and was the first Colorado defenseman to record points in his first five games of a season since Sandis Ozolinsh in 1996-97.

Quincey has been paired with veteran Scott Hannan for much of this season, with the two of them a combined +9.

“We feel good about the mix of young players and veterans in our locker room,” said Sacco.  “The young guys have deserved to be in the lineup every night. But it’s only eight games. So while we’re certainly enjoying this start we also understand that there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

Colorado’s mix of solid goaltending and specialty teams, along with production from its young stars has the team off to a great start….one of its best ever.
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