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Practice Report: Scoring in Bunches

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche certainly hasn’t had trouble scoring goals this season. In six games, the team has lit the lamp a league-leading 24 times, while its scoring rate of 4.0 goals-per-game is tied with St. Louis for the best in the National Hockey League.

The line combination of Ryan Smyth-Paul Stastny-Milan Hejduk has been the most productive thus far for the Avs, having totaled 24 points (11g/13a). And while it’s a welcome sight to witness the Avalanche hitting the back of the net so often early in the season, Avalanche head coach Tony Granato hopes that type of production becomes more of a luxury than a necessity.

“We don’t want to rely on having to score four goals every game but it’s been a good start,” said Granato. “Obviously that line [Smyth-Stastny-Hejduk] has been consistent in all the games and our power play has been good.”

While the power play has indeed been effective – ranking 10th in the league with a 21.6 percent success rate – Granato dubbed the penalty kill as “an area that we have to be better in.” Colorado has killed off just 19-of-27 penalties (70.4%) through six contests. 

Rallying Back
The Avalanche started the 2008-09 campaign with a trio of losses, but the veterans in the locker room refused to let the rest of the squad play “panic hockey.” With the club taking the same approach as it did in its first three games, Colorado has bounced back with three straight wins to even its record. Not surprising, says Granato, when you consider how well his team had competed in those first three games despite coming out on the losing end.

“I can’t say that we’ve played better the past three games but we’ve found ways to win the game. We’ve found ways to get the lead, protect the lead and come away with a win.”

Budaj Remains in Goal
Starting netminder Peter Budaj will again start between the pipes Thursday when the Edmonton Oilers visit Pepsi Center (7:30 p.m.). Budaj has been solid against the Oilers throughout his career, posting a 9-3-2 record with a 2.58 goals-against average in 14 appearances.

The netminder recorded his first win of the season Monday against the Los Angeles Kings by stopping 26 shots, including 13 in a crucial first period to keep the game deadlocked at 1-1.

The Opposition
The Oilers could come to Denver with an unblemished record. Edmonton has won a quartet of one-goal games to open the season, including a home-and-home sweep against Northwest Division rival Calgary this past weekend. It marks only the third time in team history that the club has started the season 4-0-0.

After three straight off days, the Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center before hopping on a plane to Colorado.

Tomorrow’s game will mark the second meeting of the season between the Oilers and the Avalanche. Edmonton pulled out a 3-2 victory at Rexall Place on Oct. 12 courtesy of a Dustin Penner goal with 5.4 seconds remaining in the third period.

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