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Avalanche face daunting early-season road trip

by Rick Sadowski
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Coming off an opening-night loss at home, the Colorado Avalanche have the daunting task of hitting the road for five games in an eight-day span. Overall, the Avs will play seven of the next eight games on the road, where last season they posted a 14-23-4 record, tied for 28th in the NHL.

Could it be make-or-break time for the league's second-youngest team already?

Not according to Avalanche coach Joe Sacco, whose club opens its five-game excursion with a Monday matinee against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins.

The Avalanche will also visit Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto before its next home game, Oct. 20 against Chicago.


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"We still have 76 games when we get back," Sacco said after practice Sunday. "We have a lot of hockey when we get back. I look at it as an opportunity for the guys to bond, to form some good team chemistry, because that's what you do on the road. You spend a lot of time together. You're with your roommate and your teammates almost 24-7. We need to use those games and those days as a time for our team to get some closeness, to get tight together.

"The journey is just beginning right now. It's a long year. But if we can have some success on the road out there it certainly would make our guys feel better about themselves and more confident."

Colorado, which dropped a 3-0 decision to Detroit on Saturday, was one of the surprise teams in the league two years ago after rattling off a 4-1-2 record during an early October trip that proved to be a good omen for the remainder of the season. The Avs wound up with 43 wins and earned an unexpected playoff position.

"Sure, I remember that," Sacco said of his rookie season behind the bench. "I feel in order to really have a lot of success in this league you have to be a dominant home team and you have to be a good road team."

The Avalanche were neither a year ago when they tumbled into 29th place in the overall standings, which is why management made numerous offseason changes. Seven new players are on the roster, including goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, defensemen Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien, and first-round draft pick Gabriel Landeskog.

"A lot of these guys you don't know too well," forward David Jones said. "You see them in training camp when there's a ton of players, so now it's nice to go out to dinner and really get to know them.

"It's never good to start with a loss at home, and now we go on the road and it's not going to get any easier. Boston, defending champs … if there's any team to gauge where you're really at, it's them. I think it's going to be a tough battle, but everybody's looking forward to it.

"We've got some tough opponents coming up and the last thing you want to do is go on the road and drop some games. Before you know it, you're behind the eight-ball real quick."

There were some encouraging signs Saturday despite the loss to Detroit in front of an energized sellout crowd on a night when the Avalanche retired Peter Forsberg's No. 21 jersey.

Varlamov stopped 36 of 38 shots in his Colorado debut and Landeskog registered five shots on goal and three hits while playing left wing on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik that Sacco said was the team's best.

"(Varlamov) was solid, he gave us a chance to win," Sacco said. "When the heat was on in the third period, he really made some big saves to keep us in the game. He played very well and he's going to play (Monday in Boston)."

Landeskog, who was selected with the second overall pick in the NHL entry draft in June, was relatively pleased with his performance.

"It's tough to be happy with a game when you lose, but at the same time it was my first NHL game," he said. "I was more comfortable out there than I thought I would be. I'm just going to try and build off it."
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