The NHL takes two weeks off for the Winter Olympics, which couldn’t have come at a worse time for Colorado.
The Avalanche-improved to 13-3-3 in their last 19 games after a 4-1 victory at Columbus last Friday. The victory came a day after a 2-1 win over Minnesota in the final contest at the Pepsi Center before the 2006 Winter Olympics hockey competition in Italy.
Joe Sakic, Team Canada MVP in the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City, scored the game winner against the Wild. Sakic will be joined in Turino by teammate Rob Blake on this edition of the Canadian National squad, a +105 favorite in most offshore books to capture the gold medal. Canada ranks ahead of the Czech Republic (+325), Sweden (+450), Russia (+550) and the United States (+900) in the 12-team competition.
Sakic’s 54 points ranks second on the Avs to scoring leader Alex Tanguay with 65 points. Marek Svatos, in his first full season with Colorado, leads the team in goals with 30 and will play for the Czech Republic in the Olympics. The Avs have 10 players scoring at least 10 goals, including All-Star defenseman Blake.
Goalie David Aebischer kicked aside 33 shots against Minnesota in improving to 8-2 lifetime versus the Wild and 11-3-2 in 2006. Backup goalie Peter Budaj was in the nets against Columbus. The Avs ended NHL play with a road game at Detroit.
Colorado has gained the reputation as a capable front-runner, going 24-1-1 when ahead after two periods. As for the rest of the NHL, the Avs were 32-20-6 after the win against Minnesota with the "over" a very reliable 35-20 (64 percent). Colorado was third in the NHL in scoring at 3.6 goals per game, trailing only Detroit (3.7) and Ottawa (4.0).
The Avs ranked third in the highly competitive Northwest Division late last week, just behind first place Calgary and runner-up Vancouver.
The division has taken its toll on Colorado. Outside the division, Colorado is 20-10-2. Within the division (which also includes Edmonton and Minnesota), the Avs are 11-10-4. All five Northwest teams are above .500, and only the Wild are playing less than .612 hockey. Fourth place Edmonton was within five points of Calgary.
The Avs return to the Pepsi Center to face the Wild again on Feb. 28, then host the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 2. Colorado will be pointing to a two-game home sweep because the following four opponents (Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis and Chicago) are on the road.
Then again, that may not be so bad since the Avs are two of every three games outside the Northwest Division.