First place in the Northwest Division will be on the line Sunday when the Colorado Avalanche hosts the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center.
The Avs and Flames are currently tied atop the division with 42 points apiece, meaning the victor will hold a slight advantage in the most tightly-contested division in hockey.
The five teams in the Northwest are currently separated by only nine points (the Minnesota Wild are currently fifth with 33 points), the smallest differential between a divisional leader and last place team in the NHL. The Northeast Division is the next closest in terms of point differential, with Buffalo (38 points) on top and Toronto (27) in the cellar. The most extreme example comes in the Southeast Division, where Washington (46) holds a 26-point advantage over last-place Carolina (20).
With the standings packed so tightly, games against division rivals become that much more important.
“It’s a huge game,” said forward Chris Stewart. “We’re tied for the division lead right now, it’s a four-point game and we want to create some momentum and head into the Christmas Break leading the division.”
Practice Notes The team held an optional skate Saturday morning at Family Sports Center, with eight players and both goalies participating. The players spent the beginning of practice playing a two-on-two game, with the goals set up along the blue lines to shorten the ice. Assistant coaches Steve Konowalchuk and Sylvain Lefebvre also jumped into the action at times.
After the games finished, the Avs went through a handful of drills before leaving the ice to head home and rest up for tomorrow’s game against Calgary.
After practice, Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco confirmed that Craig Anderson will start Sunday’s game.
An Important Chat Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj didn’t see a second of ice time during Friday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it’s possible the Avalanche wouldn’t have come away with two points without him.
As strange as that may sound initially, Budaj’s knowledge and experience played a big role in both Wojtek Wolski’s game-winning tally and Anderson’s performance in the shootout.
Before Wolski’s attempt against Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki, he and Budaj had a long chat about what the netminder was seeing from the Avalanche bench.
“We talk about whatever you see with the goalie’s tendencies,” said Budaj. “We knew it was going to be tough to score on Niittymaki. He asked me what I’ve seen and I ask him what he’s seeing, and then we just kind of debate and talk about it.”
As is the norm, Budaj also chatted with Anderson before the shootout to make sure they were on the same page. While Anderson was familiar with some of Tampa Bay’s shooters after playing in the Eastern Conference the past few seasons, he asked Budaj for a quick read on Alex Tanguay.
“He asked me about Tangs because I played with him,” said Budaj. “I was trying to tell him that Tangs is a great player with great hands, so play him honest and don’t cheat. We always try to help each other and help the team get the extra point.”