Avalanche on winning run

Jan 9, 2006 3:45 AM

It’s time for bettors to hop on the Colorado Avalanche bandwagon.

The Avs enjoy a three-game win streak, longest since late November, and play 10 of their next 13 games at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Colorado is currently fourth in the Northwest Division, trailing first place Calgary by five points. All five teams in the division are above .500 and only three of the 15 in the Western Conference are playing below the break-even mark.

The bettors here in Las Vegas have been cashing in on Colorado’s consistent offensive production, leading the conference in goals scored with 156 through last Friday’s action. The "over" is a stellar 27-12 (69.2 percent) in Colorado’s outings.

The Avs have seven players with at least 10 goals, including right wing Marek Svatos. The rookie has a team-high 21 goals, breaking the old mark of 20 set in the 1995-96 season by Chris Drury.

Alex Tanguay leads the Avs in scoring (47 points) and assists (31), while the team’s all-time leading scorer Joe Sakic is second in goals, (17), assists (27) and points (44).

Defense has been the problem for the Avs, with perennial All-Star defenseman Rob Blake saddled with the team’s worst plus / minus ratio (-13), meaning that Blake has been on the ice for 13 more goals than the Avs have scored when he was on the bench.

Blake’s struggle has extended to the goaltending, which has been divided between No. 1 starter David Aebischer and backup Peter Budaj. Each has a goals against average below 9.00, but Aebischer has picked up a shutout and a 4-2 win in his last two starts to raise his record to 13-9-0. Budaj is 6-5.

Colorado has favorable matchups this week at home against the Montreal Canadiens and the St. Louis Blues, whose 25 points are lowest in the NHL. In between is a huge matchup with the Flyers and former Colorado superstar Peter Forsberg in Philadelphia. The Flyers lead the Atlantic Division and their 58 points trails only Ottawa for the best mark in the Eastern Conference.

The Avs are averaging 3.68 goals per game, third best in the NHL and a major reason most all of their matchups are listed at 6½ goals or higher in the Las Vegas books.