Avalanche-Maple Leafs Preview
AVALANCHE (3-1-1) at MAPLE LEAFS (0-4-1)
Season Series: This is the first and only meeting between these inter-conference opponents. Toronto won in Colorado last season, 7-4. Dominic Moore, who is now with Florida, scored a pair of goals to power the Leafs. Milan Hejduk tallied twice for the Avalanche, but had a third goal disallowed because of a questionable goalie interference penalty called against then-teammate Ryan Smyth.
Big Story: Toronto garnered all the attention during the offseason when GM Brian Burke rebuilt the roster, adding more size and grit. It hasn't translated into victories in the first handful of games, however. Colorado, on the other hand, was seemingly an afterthought in the wake of its last-place finish in the Western Conference, but the Avalanche retooled through the draft and free agency, and is surging out of the gate.
Avalanche: After getting off to a 2-0-0 start at home, Colorado hit the road for a mammoth, seven-game swing that may provide a better indication as to whether this team is for real. The Avalanche is 1-1-1 following Monday's 4-3 win over Boston, the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season. After Tuesday's game, they still have stops left to make in Montreal, Detroit and Minnesota before heading back to the Pepsi Center.
"One game at a time," goalie Craig Anderson said after making 29 saves against the Bruins. "That's been what we pride ourselves in. They're a great team. They weren't the best team in the East last year for no reason. They found a way to win the last game. The puck didn't have the same lightning tonight."
Maple Leafs: Since picking up a point in their opener, an overtime loss at home against Montreal, it's been all downhill for Toronto. Four more defeats have followed, all in regulation. The Leafs have allowed five or more goals in three of those them, including Monday night's 7-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"We kept battling," coach Ron Wilson said. "Until the third period, until that fourth goal seemed to discourage us completely -- which was the disturbing thing. But we had, unfortunately, a number of guys who didn't want to take a hit to make a play to get the puck out of our end, and it ended up in our net."
Who's Hot: Anderson signed in Colorado to be a No. 1 for the first time in his career, and he's delivered. Anderson has played all 303 minutes for the Avalanche so far, posting a 2.18 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, with one shutout. Hejduk scored a power-play goal for the second straight game against Boston.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his third goal of the season against the Rangers, tying him for the team lead with Matt Stajan. He also somehow managed to finish at plus-1, making him a team-best plus-4 for the season.
Injury Report: Colorado is getting healthy. David Jones returned from a bruised chest to play in his first game of the season against the Bruins, and all he did was score the game-winning, shorthanded goal and add an assist. Defenseman Ruslan Salei remains out with a bad back.
Toronto's injuries include winger Phil Kessel (shoulder), defenseman Mike Van Ryn (knee) and goalie Jonas Gustavsson (groin), all of whom are on injured reserve. Gustavsson could begin practicing later this week. Forward Wayne Primeau is nursing a shoulder injury but is practicing with the club.
Stat Pack: Colorado defenseman Scott Hannan, who had one goal in 81 games last season, is already on the board for 2009-10 after tallying against Boston.
Puck Drop: The road trip doesn't get any easier for the Avalanche following its stop at the Air Canada Centre, but not much seems to faze the team right now. Their goal scorers, led by Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski, have picked it up, and the Leafs' biggest concern will likely once again be keeping the puck out of their own net.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com