NHL Regular Season Hockey makes its return to Rexall Place tonight for the first time in almost 18 months as the Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0) open up the 2005-06 season against the Colorado Avalanche (0-0-0).
AVALANCHE TO WATCH:
With the departure of Peter Forsberg, the weight is now on C Joe Sakics shoulders to lead this club. Sakic had a strong pre-season campaign with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in five games played. With RW Milan Hejduk on the shelf for the first month of the season, Sakic will have even more pressure on him as the Avs hope to regain their status as Northwest Division champions The Avalanche will also look toward a number of veteran off-season acquisitions, including LW Andrew Brunette, C Pierre Turgeon, LW Antti Laaksonen, D Patrice Brisebois, LW Brad May and C Ian Lapperiere to fill the shoes of departed players Teemu Selanne, Adam Foote and Paul Kariya.
OILERS TO WATCH:
RW Ales Hemsky
was tied for the team lead in pre-season scoring with five points. After a successful season last year, leading HC Moeller Pardubice to the Czech league championship as playoff MVP, Hemsky is poised to break out as a top offensive talent at the NHL level. He had 12 goals and 34 points in 2003-04 with the Oilers in 71 games LW Raffi Torres quietly had a strong pre-season with five points as well, including four assists All eyes will be on off-season acquisitions D Chris Pronger and C Michael Peca. Both players are expected to play a role in the leadership and on-ice success of this club.
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton:
Jussi Markkanen (collar bone) is out; Colorado:
Milan Hejduk (knee) is out.
The Avalanche were one of only two teams to remain undefeated in regulation through the entire pre-season schedule, going 4-0-2... The Avalanche had the leagues best penalty kill in the pre-season, going 95.8% (46-for-48).
"That was 18 months of inactivity there. It was very exciting to get back out there and compete. Playing golf for the whole lockout, you don't get to compete like that." -- Avalanche winger Brad May after playing his first pre-season game in front of the home crowd at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
"We know we have the pieces. Its just a matter of putting them together. But theres no point talking about it, well see the first month." – Oilers forward Ethan Moreau on the teams expectations this season.
The Oilers played overtime for a club-record sixth consecutive game in falling 3-2 to the Colorado Avalanche on March 10, 2004. Adam Foote scored a pair of goals, including one 2:37 into the extra frame to lift the Avalanche to victory two nights after the Steve Moore incident in Vancouver. Scoring for the Oilers was Petr Nedved and Georges Laraque. Ty Conklin made his first appearance in goal since Feb. 13, 2004 vs Minnesota. He broke his hand the game before when he fought Atlanta goalie Pasi Nurminen
The Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks this Saturday at 8:00 p.m. The club then embarks on a short two-game trip out to California where they will meet the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Mighty Ducks Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.