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With new faces, Avs are looking forward to road trip

by Dan Rosen /
With Tomas Fleischmann and Matt Hunwick coming on board this week, Colorado coach Joe Sacco sees this as a fantastic time for his team to hit the road.

The Avalanche begin a five-game trip through the Southeast Division in Raleigh, N.C. on Friday. They play the Lightning on Saturday and then the Panthers on Tuesday. They'll head to Atlanta and then up to Washington before heading home.

"It's actually good timing because it allows the new guys we have, Hunwick and Fleischmann, to get to know the guys better, because as you know it's easier to do that on the road," Sacco told "If we were at home, guys would go their separate ways."

Sacco plans to use Fleischmann in a top-six forward role and on one of the Avs' two power-play units. He said the organization traded defenseman Scott Hannan to the Capitals for Fleischmann because they view him as someone with big-goal potential. He had only 10 points in 23 games with the Capitals and was a healthy scratch twice, but had 51 points last season.

He should get an opportunity in Colorado right off the bat with Chris Stewart (broken hand) sidelined for the next month.

"I don't know what was going on with him in Washington, but I look at his previous seasons and I remember coaching against him when I was in the American Hockey League, and already at a young age he's scored a lot of goals -- big goals," Sacco said of Fleischmann. "He's got playoff experience and scored some big goals in the playoffs. It is a great opportunity for him. He'll get a chance to establish himself as a top-six forward and he'll get a chance to play on the power play and hopefully play with confidence. This game is easier to play well when you're feeling good about yourself."

Sacco said Stewart's injury (he's already missed one game) has forced the Avs to "change the chemistry," but Fleischmann hopefully will help in that process.

"Chris and Paul (Stastny) had good chemistry together for a long time, last season into this season," Sacco said. "But it's funny that the night that Chris got injured I shook up the lines and had Stewart with (Matt) Duchene and (Milan) Hejduk with Stastny and it seemed to work well. It's just a matter of the lines being juggled again. We've dealt with this stuff this year and we dealt with it last season. We've had a number of injuries and I think the players have been very resilient and we've responded well."

It appears goalie Craig Anderson and captain Adam Foote also have responded well -- to medical treatment, as both are expected to play Friday.

Anderson missed the last three games after injuring his groin against Vancouver on Nov. 24. It was his second game back from a four-week absence due to a knee injury. Foote (charley horse) also was hurt in the Vancouver game, but he went through a full practice Thursday and will be good to go in Carolina.

Colorado has lost three of four since winning four in a row from Nov. 15-20, but Sacco likes how his team has been playing.

"We've played well," he said. "No, I don't look at this road trip as a chance to regroup. It's just part of the schedule, comes along during the course of the season, but I like the way we're playing."

Now let's take it around the conference for all the news and notes. The teams are listed in order of where they were in the standings after Thursday's action:

 Detroit Red Wings (16-4-2, 34 points)

No team in the NHL has fewer regulation losses than the Wings, who have won three in a row and eight of 10. They're doing it with a quiet swagger, too, because you just don't hear much about them despite all of their winning. Maybe that's because we simply have come to expect greatness out of Hockeytown. Well, we're getting it -- Pavel Datsyuk has 5 points in the last two games and leads the team with 27 points. Henrik Zetterberg had 4 points in a 5-3 win against San Jose on Tuesday.

 Dallas Stars (15-8-1, 31 points)

A five-game win streak has lifted the Stars into first place in the Pacific Division. Yup, it can happen that quickly in the NHL. Dallas' defense and goaltending has been outstanding lately. The Stars have yielded only six goals during their win streak, and in four games have held the opponent to just one. Only St. Louis lit the lamp twice.

 Vancouver Canucks (13-7-3, 29 points)

The Canucks have scored 17 goals in their current three-game win streak, including 13 in the last two games. Mason Raymond had a hat trick in Wednesday's 7-2 win against Calgary. Twelve of their 18 skaters had at least one point in a 6-1 win against San Jose last Friday. The Canucks are healthy and they look good, but they head to Chicago on Friday and the United Center isn't their favorite building, to say the least.

 Chicago Blackhawks (14-11-2, 30 points)

Could the Blackhawks be coming around? They've won three in a row and four of their last five. They gave up five goals to St. Louis on Tuesday, including three in the third period, and still won by two. Their superstars -- notably Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp -- are flourishing. Sharp has goals in five straight games and three multi-point games in a row. Marty Turco will start in goal Friday after serving as Corey Crawford's backup the last three games.

 Columbus Blue Jackets (14-8-1, 29 points)

The Jackets have lost three in a row after winning five straight to climb the standings. The Jackets' struggles have been at home, where they are 6-6-1; they're 8-2-0 on the road. R.J. Umberger has points in 10 straight games, which is a franchise record.

 Phoenix Coyotes (12-7-5, 29 points)

The Pacific Division is tight and the Coyotes' win Wednesday put them right back in the mix. It also snapped a two-game slide. Phoenix hosts Florida on Saturday and then has a big intra-division game against Anaheim on Sunday. Scottie Upshall has scored 4 goals in the last five games and leads the team with 8.

 Anaheim Ducks (13-11-3, 29 points)

Is there a streakier team in the NHL? The Ducks bring a three-game win streak into Friday's game against Detroit. This comes on the heals of a six-game losing streak, which followed a six-game win streak. Got all that? They may be a streaky team, but they're on a good one now and that's important with the Wings in town. The top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry has 7 goals and 8 assists over the last three games.

 San Jose Sharks (12-8-4, 28 points)

Things are so tightly packed in the conference that with just one win, a 4-0 throttling of Ottawa on Thursday, the Sharks jumped four places in the standings. It was the perfect way for the Sharks to open a five-game road trip. They'll play in Montreal on Saturday and then visit Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo next week.

 Los Angeles Kings (14-10-0, 28 points)

The Kings were linked in rumors to a deal for Boston's Marco Sturm, but they're just looking anywhere to fight its way out of a funk. They gave themselves some life Thursday by scoring twice in the third period to come back and beat Florida 3-2. The win snapped a four-game losing streak in which the Kings were outscored 11-4. It also was L.A.'s first regulation win in nine games. The team is reportedly considering sending Brayden Schenn back to the WHL. He's just eight games, and none since Oct. 30.

 Colorado Avalanche (13-9-2, 28 points)

Craig Anderson and Adam Foote will return to the lineup Friday; each has missed the last three games. Matt Duchene has goals in four straight games and five of the last six. It's his best stretch since he scored 5 goals in three games last season from Nov. 28-Dec. 2.

 St. Louis Blues (12-9-3, 27 points)

The Blues may wind up as the perfect case study for survival in an NHL season. Is there another team that has experienced more highs and lows in just 25 games? They score five against Chicago on Tuesday but lose. They give up two goals against Dallas last Saturday and still lose. They score just once in regulation against Nashville last Wednesday, yet they win in a shootout. Since winning seven in a row from Oct. 22-Nov. 7 they're 3-8-1, but no one would be shocked if they reeled off seven straight wins again.

 Nashville Predators (11-8-5, 27 points)

Wednesday's win was big for the club because it showed resiliency. The Predators held a 2-1 lead after two periods, trailed by one 10 minutes into the third, but scored before the end of regulation and won in a shootout. Nashville hasn't allowed a power-play goal since giving up four to Toronto on Nov. 16. That's a span of eight games and 28 successful kills.

 Minnesota Wild (11-11-2, 24 points)

Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to the lineup Wednesday for the first time since the 2009-10 season-opener. He looked good skating on the same line as Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak. The Wild have lost three in a row (14 goals allowed) and five of their last six. They've allowed 25 goals in those five losses.

 Edmonton Oilers (9-12-4, 22 points)

The kids are coming around, the goaltending has been superb and the Oilers are movin' on up. They passed their provincial rivals with Thursday's 5-0 win in Toronto, which was their third in a row and fourth in five games. Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Gerber and Devan Dubnyk all won games during three-game road trip to Eastern Canada. Taylor Hall has 8 goals in his last 18 games after failing to score in his first seven. He had his first two-goal game Thursday against the Leafs.

 Calgary Flames (10-13-2, 22 points)

The Flames can't keep any momentum. They played well in New Jersey last week and then won in Philadelphia before losing in Pittsburgh. They came home and beat Minnesota, 3-0, but got pasted by the Canucks 7-2 on Wednesday. Coach Brent Sutter was not happy with how his team treated the third period. They were trailing 3-2 at the second intermission, but gave up four goals in the third, including two power-play goals one shorthanded. "That's unacceptable," Sutter said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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