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Strong Start a Focus Tonight vs. Panthers

by Scott Ward / Colorado Avalanche

Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has more than once this season stressed the importance of his team getting off to quick starts in games.

The stats back him up. Colorado has outscored opponents 17-8 in the first period this year and is 12-0 when scoring first. The Avs are the only team in the NHL with a perfect record when going ahead 1-0.

A fast start tonight against Florida (7 p.m. MT; Altitude 2; Altitude Radio Network) might be more important than usual, though.

Colorado is coming off what team captain Gabriel Landeskog termed Saturday morning, “a stinker,” in its 7-3 loss Thursday night at St. Louis, and a pre-scheduled day off yesterday has given the Avalanche players much time to think.

The Avs (14-4-0) are ready to move on after chewing on what was a sour end to a remarkable 18-game start to the season.

“We want to get back to where we were before this road trip,” Landeskog said. “We have all the reasons in the world to play confident out there, and that’s what we’re looking to do tonight—get back to that game. We’re at home ice again, and this is where we want to establish our game for real. We’re looking to bounce back here.”

A lot of discussion amongst Roy and his players has happened since Thursday, with the team’s focus shifting toward the Panthers (4-12-4) and beyond. That talk continued Saturday morning at Pepsi Center, with the Avs holding a little longer than usual morning skate.

“I thought it was good this morning to have a good talk, talking about different things,” Roy said. “First of all, there’s no reason for us to not be confident. We’re going to go through games like [St. Louis] in the season, and the good thing is—we talked about this—going goal by goal, when [you] look goal by goal, there’s an area in our game that needs to improve: it’s our game management. I think it was good for us to talk about, and I think everybody feels good after talking about it. It was very positive. It’s not to live in the past. It’s just to show that we control the game more than we think we do.”

This season is still young, of course, and the same reasons why Roy and his players didn’t want to get too caught up in their excellent start are still in play here. Thursday’s loss and a 2-1 setback Tuesday night to Carolina have resulted in Colorado’s first two-game skid of the season. But that doesn’t define this team, just like the 16 games the Avalanche played before Tuesday doesn’t define it.

The story of the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche still has much to be written.

“That [St. Louis] game actually made me more excited for things to come,” Matt Duchene said. “I think you look at that team there, they are kind of one of the teams that’s the bar that we’ve got to get to. We’re still learning how to win. We’ve got a great team in here, but we’re still learning those things. Last game was a great learning experience for us, and it shows us how far we have to go. When you have a challenge like that in front of you it’s exciting. “

Added Roy: “I think we should be very happy with our start, but we cannot be satisfied. That’s a big difference. When you’re not satisfied you are aware that there are things that need to improve in our game.

“The good thing is we’re aware of those things, and we talk about it. I think it’s very positive.”


Cody McLeod and his wife Jessy welcomed their second daughter, Emma, early this morning, but McLeod was at the team’s morning skate today and will be in the lineup tonight against the Panthers.


Emma, born around 2:30 a.m., joins sister Peyton, who will turn 3 this spring.

“Everybody is doing well, and it actually went pretty smooth,” McLeod said through a wider than usual gap-toothed hockey smile. “Everybody is doing good, and everyone is healthy, so that’s the main thing.”

McLeod has three assists and is plus-4 through 13 games this season. He signed as a minor-league free agent with Colorado in July 2006 and played earlier this season in his 400th NHL game (Oct. 10 at Boston).

He, understandably, said he didn’t get too much sleep last night, but he’s ready to go against Florida.

“Not too much sleep, but the adrenaline was going,” he said. “I’ll have a good nap this afternoon and be ready to go tonight.”


- Defenseman Andre Benoit (wrist) will not play tonight vs. Florida and will join defenseman Ryan Wilson (back) and forward Alex Tanguay (knee) on the Avalanche’s pregame scratch list.


Matt Hunwick will start in place of Benoit and play for the Avs for the first time this season after being recalled from Lake Erie (AHL) on Nov. 4. He’s played in 291 career NHL games and 77 for Colorado, including 43 last season.

Roy said Saturday morning that Hunwick will pair with defenseman Cory Sarich.

“It’s [Hunwick’s] opportunity,” Roy said. “He’s a great person, [and] he works hard. I’m glad for him to have a chance to play tonight, and hopefully things will go well for him. It’s good to see a guy like him having his chance, and hopefully he’ll take advantage of it.”

- The top two picks in this summer’s NHL Draft will face off tonight for the first time, when the Avs’ Nathan MacKinnon (first overall) and the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov (second) step on the ice.

MacKinnon has 12 points (3g/9a) in 18 games, ranking second among all NHL rookies in assists and tied for second in points, while Barkov has eight points (4g/4a) in 20 games, tying for third on the Panthers in goals and fourth in points.

Joining them will be two of the top picks from the 2011 draft, too, with Gabriel Landeskog (second in 2011) going against Jonathan Huberdeau (third).

Landeskog has scored 37 goals and has notched 47 assists (84 points) in his time with Colorado, including six goals and nine assists this season. Huberdeau has 18 goals and 23 assists (41 points) since Florida chose him behind Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who went first overall to Edmonton.

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