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On the Road Again

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Colorado takes to the road for a four-game, eight-day stint beginning Friday at Chicago. The Avalanche only has two longer road trips this season (Jan. 8-15 and Feb. 20-27), both of which are five-game stretches.

After Friday’s game in Chicago, the Avalanche will face Minnesota on Sunday (Oct. 21) before traveling to Edmonton for a Tuesday night (Oct. 23) tilt. After a two-day break, the Avs complete the trip with a Friday (Oct. 26) match-up against Calgary.

Coach ‘Q’ Closes in on 400
Avalanche Head Coach Joel Quenneville is sitting just shy of an impressive milestone. The veteran bench boss needs just two wins for 400 career victories as an NHL head coach. With a 398-272-93 career mark, Quenneville is on pace to become only the 22nd head coach in NHL history to reach the 400-win plateau, and could hit that mark as early as Sunday against Minnesota.

But with his magic number at two, is Quenneville focusing on his possible milestone?

“No, it’s about winning the next game, that’s the priority,” said Quenneville. “We need to have some success on the road. We’ve had a couple of games where we haven’t had much production. You’re always playing to win the next game.”

Quenneville, who currently holds a 91-63-16 mark in two-plus seasons with Colorado, also played 13 seasons (803 games) as an NHL defenseman. That gives him the distinction of being one of only five coaches in league history to both play and coach in 750 or more games.

Playing Big a Man Down
A big reason behind Colorado’s early-season success has been the team’s improved penalty kill. After finishing 23rd in penalty killing a year ago (80.2%), the Avalanche hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in its last three games, shutting down the opposition on all 14 of its opportunities.

Going back even further, after the Avalanche allowed a power-play tally to Jason Arnott in the first period on Oct. 4 against Nashville, the team has killed off 24-of-25 opponent power-play chances (96%).

“I think it’s just about getting used to the system and what’s expected out there,” said defenseman Scott Hannan. “It’s four guys – five guys with the goalie – working as a group. We’ve had everyone on the same page.”

Overall this season, the Avalanche is killing penalties at an 86.2% clip (25-of-29).

Scouting the Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are undergoing a bit of a resurgence thanks to a shot of youth in their lineup.

While veteran Robert Lang leads the team with five points (3g/2a), the talk in the Windy City has been all about the rookie duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has recorded four assists through his first six NHL contests, while Toews (3rd overall, 2006 Entry Draft) has notched four points (1g/3a) in only four games.

Youth is also being served on the Chicago blue line, where third-year defenseman Brent Seabrook is Chicago’s top scorer with four points (1g/3a). Seabrook is also one of only five Blackhawks with a positive plus/minus rating (+2).

Stalwart Nikolai Khabibulin will likely get the starting nod in goal for Chicago. The 12th-year veteran netminder has played in five games this season, posting a 2-3-0 mark with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

While Colorado’s penalty kill unit has been thriving, Chicago has had some troubles in that department early in the season. The Blackhawks rank 26th in the league, having successfully killed off 22-of-29 penalties (75.9%).

Notes: Forward Milan Hejduk (back) skated on Thursday after missing Tuesday’s game against Calgary and sitting out yesterday’s practice. According to Quenneville, Hejduk is feeling better and should play tomorrow night...Quenneville also said that Jose Theodore will start Friday against Chicago, while the goaltending rotation for the remainder of the road trip will be decided on a game-by-game basis.
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