Avalanche setto ice the NHL

Oct 3, 2005 3:39 AM

Hockey still rules in Colorado, despite the strike that wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

The Avalanche begin the 2005-06 season this week with three games, beginning with Wednesday night’s opener in Edmonton against the Oilers. Colorado is currently an 8-1 choice to win the Stanley Cup, fourth best among the 30 NHL teams. Defending champion Tampa Bay is 10-1 to defend its title.

The Philadelphia Flyers are the 3-1 favorite this season to win the Cup, due largely to their acquisition of former Colorado star forward Peter Forsberg, considered by many the best all-around player.

With Forsberg gone and right-winger Milan Hejduk out 4-to-5 weeks after knee surgery, the heavy load at the start falls upon team record holder Joe Sakic. The veteran center leads the Avs in career games (1074), goals (509), assists (806) and points (1315).

Goalie David Aebischer comes off a fine campaign in the year prior to the strike, posting a 32-19-9 record with a goals against average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .924. Aebischer has big shoes to fill, replacing the goaltending legend Patrick Roi, who led the Avs to several Stanley Cup titles.

Sakic scored 33 goals, two less than Hejduk in 2004. The Avs have great balance, with 11 players coming off double-digit goal scoring totals. Left wing Alex Tanguay was third (25) in the department and the team’s top player in the + / - category with +30 (on the ice for 30 more goals Colorado scored compared to allowed.

Past All-Star Rob Blake (13-33-46) leads a solid defense, along with former Montreal standout Patrick Brisebois (+17).

The Avalanche travel from Edmonton to Dallas on Saturday for a matchup with the Stars before returning to the Pepsi Center for the home opener next Monday against Calgary. Edmonton is 20-1 at Caesars to win the Cup, while Dallas is 25-1 and Calgary 8-1. The Flames have one of the NHL’s most exciting players in Jarome Iginla.