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Physical Game Crucial to Success

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
If we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that the Avs can throw their bodies around with the best of them. Colorado earned two straight victories to wrap up its eight-game homestand by topping the Dallas Stars and the Calgary Flames, two of the NHL’s hottest teams and most physical clubs.

The Avalanche held a 23-11 advantage in hits during Thursday night’s win over the Stars, which came on the heels of a 36-22 margin in Monday’s victory over the Flames.

The significance of asserting themselves physically is not lost on the players, who realize that particular aspect of the game becomes even more important when skilled skaters like Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny are out of the lineup.

Ian Laperriere - seen here putting a hit on Tampa Bay's Andrew Hutchinson - believes the Avalanche's physical play has been key in the club's recent victories.
“When you don’t have as much skill as other teams have, there’s one thing where everyone’s on an even keel, and that’s physical play,” said Laperriere. “When we get physical, other teams don’t like to play against us.

“That’s our recipe right now. We don’t have the lineup of the Detroit Red Wings or any teams like that. We can’t just win with skill, we have to win with grit and physical play.”

It’s been that kind of mindset that has helped the Avalanche in its past few outings. And having players like Laperriere, Cody McCormick, Cody McLeod and Darcy Tucker in your lineup – none of whom shy away from contact – can help to establish a physical tone from the first drop of the puck.

“I think we had some really good starts to the game in a physical sense,” added Tucker. “We didn’t sit back and wait for the other team to dictate the play; we decided to dictate the play ourselves. When we do that, we’re a pretty good hockey club. For us to win right now, the physical part of our game plan has to come into play.”

In the past seven games, the Avs hold a 2-1 record when out-hitting their opponents (the one loss came to Toronto on Jan. 29) and a 1-3 mark when the opposition has more hits on the official score sheet. The lone exception to the latter was a 6-2 Avalanche victory on Jan. 18 in which the Flames held a 19-8 advantage in the hits category.

That also brings up a legitimate question: What constitutes an official hit to NHL stat gurus? In the most general terms, when the defense plays the body of an offensive player and separates him from the puck, a hit is recorded on the score sheet.

That obviously doesn’t take into account the times when, for example, a forward or defenseman makes an outlet pass and a defensive player finishes his check on that player after the puck has left his stick. While the offensive player still feels the brunt of the hit, the play doesn’t end up in the post-game stats.

“The night before (against Calgary) they gave me nine, and yesterday they gave me two,” Laperriere said of his hit totals. “But I don’t really care about hits right now. I just want to win games.”

Budaj Back In
Peter Budaj will make his fourth consecutive start when the Avs face the St. Louis Blues on Saturday evening. The netminder has posted a 2-1 record with a .904 save percentage in his last three outings.

Budaj is 5-4-0 in 10 career games against the Blues, including a 1-1-0 mark this season. He stopped 21-of-22 shots in a 3-1 win on Nov. 26 at Pepsi Center and then dropped a 5-2 decision on Jan. 15 in St. Louis.

Foote Not Making Trip
Defenseman Adam Foote (triceps) will not accompany the team on its three-game road trip, which includes stops in St. Louis, Columbus and Minnesota. Foote last played on Jan. 4 against the Wild, leaving that game in the second period after suffering the injury. He has now missed Colorado’s last 13 contests.
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