DENVER (AP) - Few teams need to find new guys to come through big as badly as the revamped Colorado Avalanche. Few players wanted to do it worse than Marek Svatos.
Svatos made hockey's return to Denver a jubilant one Monday night, finishing with a hat trick to lead the Avalanche to a 7-3 victory over the struggling Calgary Flames.
``There's no better feeling in the world,'' Svatos said.
Especially considering his recent past.
While all players missed the game during the 16-month break brought about by NHL labor strife, Svatos got hit with a double whammy, having missed most of the previous season with an injured shoulder.
``There's no feeling worse than not being able to play the game you love,'' he said.
He played it well in Colorado's home opener and when his third goal went in, Avalanche fans partook in one of the great traditions in sports - showering the ice with hats.
It was quite a fine return for the Avs, who were largely considered losers in all the comings and goings brought about by the new collective bargaining agreement.
They played in front of their 441st straight sellout crowd in Denver, one of the handful of American markets where concerns over fan support after the lockout wasn't quite as big a deal.
And they put on a good show.
``It was one of those nights where the puck went in for us,'' Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. ``We had an edge coming into it.''
Indeed, they did against the Flames, who went 1-3 on their season-opening road trip and got outscored 13-6 by Colorado and Detroit on back-to-back nights.
``This sounds like a broken record. We are being totally dominated,'' Flames coach Darryl Sutter said.
The 2004 Stanley Cup runners-up were thought to be winners over the layoff, bringing in Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty - among others - and signing star forward Jarome Iginla to a new, three-year contract.
Iginla had an assist on Calgary's second goal to give him three points for the season. McCarty, an old nemesis of the Avs from his days with Detroit, got a game misconduct for slamming Pierre Turgeon to the boards at the end of the second period.
Overall, the Flames looked tired and sloppy, and were undoubtedly happy to be heading home for their opener in Calgary on Thursday against Dallas.
``It isn't one thing,'' Iginla said. ``Look at all aspects of our game. It all needs to improve.''
The Avalanche, meanwhile, had a much different story to tell and there were more strong efforts by the newcomers to celebrate.
Rookie Wojtek Wolski, Colorado's first-round draft pick in 2004, scored his first NHL goal in the first period, taking a nice pass from John-Michael Liles and dropping it past Miikka Kiprusoff. Wolski had an assist later in the period on a wraparound goal by Brett McClean, another new face.
Patrice Brisebois had a goal for Colorado and Turgeon had an assist. Those two were signed as the ostensible replacements for Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote, neither of whom the Avalanche could afford to keep under the NHL's new system.
David Aebischer made 30 saves to get the win. He lost the shutout late in the second period when Dion Phaneuf flipped the puck in from the blue line and past the screened-out goalie.
Meanwhile, Svatos showed the promise the Avalanche saw in him when he was one of four rookies to make the opening-night roster in 2003.
``He's one of those guys who has a quick stick, a hot stick,'' Quenneville said. ``It was a special night for him.''
Calgary's second goal came shorthanded by Amonte, and was held up after a lengthy review determined the net had not been kicked off the mooring before the puck crossed the line. Amonte scored again on a power play to make it 7-3 - a cheap consolation prize to end a bad road trip.
``Why panic now?'' Amonte said. ``We've been gripping it tight. We haven't found ourselves yet.''
Notes: The Avalanche improved to 5-0-1 in home openers at the Pepsi Center. ... The Flames have killed only 14 of 25 power plays in their first four games. ... Kirpusoff's goals-against average climbed to 4.93.