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Practice Report: Raycroft to Start

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
“What a beautiful day, boys!” bellowed Ryan Smyth upon entering the Avs locker room Wednesday. “You guys see the sun shining out there?”

Minutes later Ian Laperriere uttered nearly the exact same quote.

If this is a team stressed out after dropping a trio of one-goal games to start the season, it’s certainly not showing.

“There’s no question we have to stop the bleeding,” said Smyth. “But if there’s any time to have a little down stretch like this, it would be now. You don’t want that at the end of the year.”

An upbeat Colorado Avalanche squad will look to put up its first victory of the year Thursday when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Pepsi Center. After Wednesday’s skate, Avalanche head coach Tony Granato confirmed that Andrew Raycroft will make his regular season debut between the pipes for the Avalanche. Granato said starting Raycroft on Thursday had been anticipated, following up on his previous declaration that he'd like to play the netminder once per week.

“We want to give him one game a week,” said Granato. “He’s coming off a season two years ago where he played a lot of hockey; last year he didn’t play a lot of hockey. We want to get him some rhythm.”

Granato also confirmed that Marek Svatos will be back in the lineup Thursday. Svatos, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered in March, was held out of Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

The Opposition
The Flyers come to Denver sporting a 0-2-1 record after picking up one point in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to in-state rival Pittsburgh. Goaltender Antero Niitymaki made his first start of the season against the Penguins, stopping 25-of-28 shots. Martin Biron had started Philadelphia’s previous two games and was saddled with losses against the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens while posting a 6.32 goals-against average. Biron was pulled in the first period of Saturday’s loss to the Rangers after giving up four early goals.

Simon Gagne has carried a hot stick for Philadelphia early in the season, scoring a goal in each of the club’s first three contests. Gagne is joined atop the Flyers’ scoring chart by Mike Richards (2g/1a) and Daniel Briere (0g/3a).

Thursday’s contest will be one of two this season between the Flyers and Avalanche as part of the NHL’s new scheduling format. Colorado will play a total of 18 games against teams from the Eastern Conference in 2008-09, facing each club at least once while contesting home-and-home sets against Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

The teams will meet up again in Philadelphia on Dec. 16.

Foote to be Recognized
Prior to Thursday’s game against the Flyers, the Avalanche will recognize Adam Foote for playing in his 1,000th career NHL game. Foote hit the milestone Sunday when he took the ice against the Edmonton Oilers.

However, “Footer” might not be the only Avs player to hit the 1,000-game mark this season. Laperriere, the Avs’ other assistant captain, could achieve the same feat late in the year. Laperriere suited up for the 930th time in his NHL career Tuesday against Calgary. If the forward plays in 70 of Colorado’s 79 remaining games, he would join Foote in the 1,000-game club.

“For sure I want to hit it. I’m confident that I’ll hit it one day or the other,” said Laperriere. “I’m not a goal scorer, I’m not a point getter; it’s one thing that I can be proud of. I’m proud of all the games I played and 1,000 games would be a nice number to hit.”

-Third-year center Paul Stastny went into Tuesday’s game needing one assist to hit 100 for his career. Stastny did that one better by recording a pair of helpers against the Flames. The University of Denver product picked up an assist on John-Michael Liles’ goal late in the first period and added a second by freezing Miikka Kiprusoff and the Calgary defense while setting up Smyth during the middle frame. Stastny is averaging over a point-per-game in his NHL career, totaling 153 points (52g/101a) in 151 contests.

-Avalanche captain Joe Sakic also picked up an assist on Smyth’s second-period tally, which helped to continue his statistical dominance of the Flames. Sakic now has 103 points (40g/63a) in 83 games against Calgary, his highest scoring total versus a single opponent. It’s also the most points of any active player against the Flames and the second most by a player versus one team in franchise history, trailing only Peter Stastny’s 115 against Hartford.

Sakic (1g/2a) and Stastny (0g/4a) are the only two Avalanche players to record at least one point in each of Colorado’s first three games.

-Through Tuesday’s games Colorado’s power-play is ranked No. 12 in the league, hitting at a 21.4% clip (3-of-14). The Avs scored twice on six opportunities against Calgary.

Quick Hits: Milan Hejduk currently leads the league with 19 shots on goal…Stastny is tied for third in the NHL with three power-play assists…Cody McLeod has scored two goals this season on only four shots (50.0%).
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