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Avs Ice Young Defensive Unit Against Flames

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
At times early in the 2010-11 season, Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco has elected to play seven defensemen for various reasons, sometimes perhaps as a tactical move and at other times to give a young blueliner the opportunity to get into the lineup and prove his worth.

Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Calgary Flames, Sacco didn’t even have the option of making that type of decision.

The Avalanche is currently carrying 10 defensemen on its roster, but Sacco had only six healthy bodies at his disposal after announcing that Kyle Quincey would miss tonight’s game with a concussion. Quincey is one of three Colorado defensemen currently sidelined due to head injuries, with the other two being Adam Foote and Kyle Cumiskey. Fellow rearguard Ryan Wilson will be out for about another week with a leg injury.

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With two-thirds of its Opening Night defense on the shelf, it meant that Colorado needed to suit up four young players along its blue line for a divisional game against the Flames.

Anchored by veterans Scott Hannan (765 career games heading into tonight’s contest) and John-Michael Liles (460), the rest of Colorado’s backliners had skated in a combined 18 NHL games prior to Tuesday. The group of youngsters included Jonas Holos (9 games played before Tuesday), David Liffiton (6), Kevin Shattenkirk (2) and Colby Cohen (1).

Of those four players, three of them spent significant time at the all-important point positions on the Avalanche’s power play. Cohen was paired with Liles on the top unit, while Holos and Shattenkirk quarterbacked the second group.

Holos flashed some of his offensive potential during the first period in that exact role, as he blasted a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off Brandon Yip’s skate and into the Calgary goal.

The other three young blueliners failed to get on the score sheet, but each contributed in ways that were expected of them. Cohen and Shattenkirk both made a fistful of crisp breakout passes that led to Avalanche rushes and also moved the puck well on the power play, while Liffiton provided a gritty, physical element on the back end.

The Avalanche’s defense as a whole was solid in limiting shots on goaltender Peter Budaj. After coming into the contest ranking 22nd in the NHL in shots against per game (32.2), Colorado allowed only 25 shots tonight.

Forward David Van Der Gulik suffered a knee injury when he was checked into the boards near the penalty boxes four minutes into the second period and did not return to the game…Winger T.J. Galiardi sustained a wrist injury with approximately two minutes remaining in the second period and also did not return…Chris Stewart’s power-play goal in the third period was his 100th career point (49g/51a)…Stewart reached the century mark in 144 games.
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