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Practice Report: Defensive Rotations

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche held a light skate Wednesday morning at Family Sports Center - light in terms of actual bodies on the ice, not how demanding the practice was.


Ten skaters and two goaltenders took part in an optional practice, including recent call-ups Mike Vernace and Derek Peltier. The two defensemen both made their NHL debuts last night in Colorado’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild.

With Ruslan Salei (foot) and Daniel Tjarnqvist (forehead) out of the lineup due to injuries, the duo that had until recently been patrolling the blue line for the Lake Erie Monsters was pushed into action. Each skated over 11 minutes and ended up with a +1 plus/minus rating in the game.

Vernace and Peltier became the fifth and sixth players to make their debuts with the Avalanche this season, joining Philippe Dupuis, Chris Durno, Matt Hendricks and Chris Stewart.

“The call-ups had pretty good first games last night,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato. “We were able to see a couple of kids that we wouldn’t normally be able to see, and they did a really nice job.”

Vernace and Peltier could both play again tomorrow night against the Edmonton Oilers, due in large part to the Avalanche’s long injury list.

Granato stated that Salei’s foot didn’t feel any better today, so he was kept off the ice. Also, Tjarnqvist is being listed as out indefinitely with his injury, while Adam Foote’s (head) injury status continues to be listed as indefinite.

In addition, the Avalanche could be without a pair of forwards against the Oilers.

Paul Stastny blocked a shot yesterday. He has a foot injury,” said Granato. “He didn’t skate today, so we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”

Granato also noted that the team will determine on Thursday morning if Darcy Tucker will be able to play against the Oilers. Tucker sat out Tuesday’s game against Minnesota with back spasms.

Sakic to Skate Soon
Joe Sakic’s health status following a Jan. 7 back surgery continues to improve, and the Avalanche could see its captain back on the ice very soon.

“Joe is progressing well and in the next few days hopefully he’ll be on the ice,” said Granato. “He’ll skate on his own the first couple of times and see how everything progresses.”

While Sakic last suited up on Nov. 28 against Phoenix, his simple presence around the rink serves as a bit of a morale boost to his teammates.

“Having Joe around is great. His attitude and just his charisma being around picks everyone else up,” stated Granato. “He’s the first one in, working out in the gym, going through all his rehab. And then he’s probably the last one out of here.”

Budaj in Goal
Peter Budaj will make his sixth start in seven games tomorrow when the Avs welcome the Edmonton Oilers to Pepsi Center. The netminder is 3-1-1 in his past five starts with a .937 save percentage and a 1.55 goals-against average.

Budaj (19-26-2) is aiming to reach the 20-win plateau for the second time in his career. He recorded 31 victories in 57 appearances during the 2006-07 campaign.

In the Division
Tomorrow’s game against Edmonton will mark the end of a five-game stretch against Northwest Division opponents. Prior to the current span - which opened with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Wild on March 12 - the Avalanche hadn’t seen a divisional opponent since they squared off with Minnesota a month earlier (Feb. 11) in St. Paul.

Including tomorrow’s game, the Avs will play four of their remaining 11 regular season contests against Northwest Division opponents, with the other three games coming against the Vancouver Canucks.
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