-- Maybe, just maybe, the Colorado Avalanche
have been underrated.
Predicted by many to finish at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Avs won their second game in as many starts with an impressive 3-0 victory over the winless Vancouver Canucks
Craig Anderson stopped 35 shots -- nine by the Canucks' Daniel Sedin -- for his eighth career shutout, and the top line of Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk combined for two goals and four assists.
"Andy's come up big for us, no question," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said after Colorado began a season 2-0 for the first time since 2001-02. "He was one of the difference-makers in the game. I think that's fair to say. He's certainly building trust. It’s only been two games, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But he’s been big in both games. You need good goaltending to win in hockey."
Anderson, who signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with the Avalanche as a free agent on July 1, has stopped 73 of 75 shots in the first two games.
"You can’t get too high," he said. "It’s only two games and we have a long way to go. It’s definitely a good stepping stone. It’s a step in the right direction. You’re only as good as your next game, but it’s a good start."
Probably an unlikely start at that, coming against two of the West's elite -- the Avs beat San Jose on Thursday before blanking Vancouver.
The Avalanche, which finished 32-45-5 last season and in the conference cellar, has a new general manager (Greg Sherman), new coach (Sacco) and nine players who weren’t in Colorado at the start a year ago, including 18-year-old rookies Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
"It’s big for our confidence," Stastny said of the fast start. "The most important thing is we're clicking as a team. Everyone is relying on each other. We’re playing as a unit and getting great play from Andy.
"You saw what happened last year and we're a lot younger team and there probably aren’t real high expectations. We're trying to prove ourselves after last year, and we're excited for that challenge."
Returning veteran Darcy Tucker, who is coming off a disappointing eight-goal campaign, scored his second goal in as many games at 5:23 of the third period to give the Avalanche its three-goal advantage.
"We wanted to get off to a good start for a number of reasons, mostly for our young guys to see that we can win when they play hard and can contribute," Tucker said. "The older guys are trying to lead by example, play hard and feed off the enthusiasm of our younger guys.
"We're going to make mistakes; that’s the bottom line. We’re a young team. But if our work ethic is there every night, we’re going to make up for it with that.”
Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo finished with 24 saves, but he wasn’t too pleased when Tucker lifted the puck over him following a deflected pass from Wolski, a goal that seemed to deflate the Canucks.
"I slid across and came back the other way, then I tried to readjust and I came back the other way," Luongo said. "Tucker was right there and it went right under the bar and in. It’s just one of those things to practice."
Stastny gave the Avalanche a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal at 15:16 of the second period. It came on the Avalanche's third consecutive man advantage in the period after Colorado failed to generate a shot on either of the first two power plays.
Stastny won a faceoff in the left circle, drawing the puck back to Kyle Quincey at the point, and he skated to the right side of the net. Quincey passed to Hejduk, who fed Stastny for a quick redirection that beat Luongo to the short side.
"I was just trying to get the puck on net, and sometimes you surprise the goalie," Stastny said. "It was just a fortunate bounce. It was a big goal to give us that two-goal cushion.”
Wolski continued his hot start with his third goal at 14:52 of the first period. Stastny drove to the net and passed across to Wolski for a tap-in just inside the left post.
"That was a big goal for us because they were all over us in that first period," Stastny said. "We were just trying to weather the storm. You have to give Andy all the credit for doing that. It helped to loosen up the whole bench. You couldn’t ask for anything more from him. He’s making the big stops."
The Avs face a stern test with their next seven games on the road, beginning in Nashville on Thursday. The Canucks, off to an 0-2 start after winning the Northwest Division last season, will try to regroup Monday in their home opener against Columbus.
"We know we've got a good team in here,” Henrik Sedin said. “It is just a matter of getting a few bounces. We are working hard and we had a good amount of shots. Maybe we should have won the game. The special teams were not good enough."
--Rick Sadowski, NHL.com Correspondent