EDMONTON, Alberta - Wednesday marked the dawn of a new day for the NHL. But for the Colorado Avalanche, the post-lockout forecast might not be as sunny as the salary cap-free days that preceded it.
In front of a sellout crowd of 16,839 at Rexall Place, the reconstructed Avalanche lost its season opener to the Edmonton Oilers 4-3. And while the score of Colorado’s first game since the 2003-04 Western Conference semifinal was close, the action on the ice was consistently in the Oilers’ control. Colorado, which never led, took 17 shots on goal to the Oilers’ 31 (with many coming in a frantic attempt to tie the game after pulling goalie David Aebischer) and was called for eight penalties to Edmonton’s four. “We were flat,” Colorado forward Joe Sakic said. “They were flying, and we didn’t match their intensity. That’s all there is to it.” During the preseason, Colorado ranked first in the NHL in penalty killing — a good sign considering the promised enforcement of obstruction rules probably will mean more whistles from referees throughout the season. But Wednesday, it was Edmonton that took advantage of special teams. Colorado went 0-for-3 when it had man advantages, while the Oilers scored their third goal on a power play late in the second period, then netted the game-winner just 7 seconds after Sakic left the penalty box with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the game. With Colorado out of position defensively, Shawn Horcoff (two goals) was left alone to the left of the Avalanche goal, and he slipped a pass from Radek Dvorak past Aebischer. “Basically, it was still a penalty kill because Joe just entered the area there,” Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. “It would have been nice to get through that one.” Colorado, already without injured first-line winger Milan Hejduk, played without wingers Brad May and Marek Svatos. But replacement defensemen Brett Clark and Bob Boughner were able to step in, combining on Colorado’s first goal. “You’d like to have all your guys, but the guys that went in for (May and Svatos) actually played the best,” Colorado’s Steve Konowalchuk said. The NHL, hoping to make the game more exciting and fan-friendly by increasing scoring chances, could not have been happier with the start of the game. Colorado and Edmonton combined for four goals in the first 8:42, with the Oilers scoring their first goal 24 seconds in when Horcoff finished a pass from Jason Smith. The Avalanche tied the game 1-1 with 14:09 left in the first period when Clark scored off an assist from Boughner. But just 25 seconds later, the Oilers were back in front thanks to a goal by Ryan Smyth. Colorado evened the score with 11:18 left in the first period when Rob Blake slid a pass from behind the net to Ian Laperriere, who fed Antti Laaksonen for a goal. With the Avalanche down 3-2 in the third period, Colorado’s Patrice Brisebois scored on a slap shot to tie the game with 7:20 to play. But Colorado’s eighth penalty led to Edmonton's game-winner. “It’s very disappointing, but we’ve got 81 games to go,” Sakic said. “We’re not going to hang our heads or anything. It’s only one game.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org NEXT Colorado at Dallas, 6 p.m., Saturday, ALT, 740/950 AM