DENVER – The Ducks will get their first look this season at the revitalized Colorado Avalanche when the teams meet tonight at Pepsi Center.
Colorado, 21-11-6, is one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season, sitting atop the Northwest Division and assured of maintaining that lofty spot through the league’s two-day Christmas break.
Despite the presence of seasoned veterans such as team captain Adam Foote, Darcy Tucker and Milan Hejduk, the Avalanche has re-tooled behind a slew of talented young players that includes top-liners Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart, as well as 18-year-old rookies Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
“The comfort zone with their young players,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said this morning when asked what jumps out at him about this Colorado club. “Duchene has given them flexibility to not have all their skill players on one line. He looks like a mature hockey player.”
Duchene, a nephew of Ducks assistant coach Newell Brown, was the third overall pick in this year’s NHL entry draft. Duchene has more than lived up to the hype, with 10 goals and 23 points in 38 games.
Few people expected the Avalanche to succeed so quickly, but new Colorado coach Joe Sacco liked what he saw all along.
“From the first day of training camp, we knew we had something special,” said Sacco, a former journeyman NHL forward who was a member of the 1993-94 expansion Ducks.
While the Avalanche is playing its final game before Christmas, the Ducks are opening yet another back-to-back set that includes a contest Wednesday night at Phoenix.
The Ducks, 14-14-7, have won three of their past four games and gone 4-1-3 in the past eight as they try to climb into playoff contention in the Western Conference.
Ducks center Petteri Nokelainen did not participate in the morning skate because of what Carlyle called “a touch of the flu,” but had progressed significantly overnight and remains a possibility to be in the lineup against Colorado.