Hockey ready to come off the ice

Sep 27, 2005 3:00 AM

The National Hockey League’s promise of a more exciting product seems to be working, if early preseason games are any indication.

"The game this year will reward speed, quickness, skill, intelligence and hard work," said Stephen Walkom, the league’s senior vice president and director of officiating in an article that appeared on the website last week.

"Accepted practices that have been coached into the game for the past 20 years will now be called as penalties," Walcom said. "The clutching and grabbing will be addressed under the new standard of enforcement."

Las Vegas sports books usually set an "over-under" goal total at between 5 and 5½ goals. If the early returns hold up and extend into the regular season, look for the wiseguys to focus more on betting the score rather than the side.

Through the first 39 exhibition games, 24 ended with teams scoring at least six goals. That’s a clip of 61.5 percent — a figure that would satisfy an NHL hierarchy eager to create more scoring in a sport that became slower and defense-dominated over the past decade with the advent of the "clutch and grab" methods of the New Jersey Devils.

The new league rules call for the elimination of the red line, which would allow for two line passes that in the past would have been whistled down on the offside. Also, shootouts are now used to decide overtime games during the regular season. Referees and linesmen have been told to call more penalties late in the game, instead of "swallowing their whistles."

The Colorado Avalanche is 1-1 in preseason play, defeating Dallas and losing to bitter rival Detroit. In the two games, the Avs have scored six goals and allowed five. The league has seen seven shootouts, four games decided in the five-minute OT and seven shutouts during that 39-game span.

The Avs host Detroit in a rematch Tuesday night and travel to Dallas on Saturday before opening their NHL season at Edmonton on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

Colorado stays on the road for an Oct. 8 contest at Dallas before returning home for a four-game homestand beginning Monday, Oct. 10 against Calgary. Nashville, Chicago and Los Angeles follow the Flames into the Pepsi Center before the Avs head back to Edmonton on Friday, Oct. 1.

In fact, the Rockies and Oilers face each other three times in the first nine games of the season.

Center Joe Sakic (33 goals, 54 assists, 87 points) leads the Avs attack now that Peter Forsberg has departed to play with the Philadelphia Flyers. Rob Blake (13-33-46) is one of the league’s premier defensemen and David Aebischer (32-19-9, 2.09 GAA) returns as the No. 1 goaltender.

The Avalanche are listed at 8-1 at Caesars Palace to win the 2005-06 Stanley Cup. The Philadelphia Flyers, at 3-1, are the favorites. Detroit is next at 6-1, followed by the Avs, Calgary and Pittsburgh at 8-1. Tampa Bay is 10-1.