DENVER – For once, the solemn locker room wasn’t Colorado’s.
Andrew Raycroft’s first career start for Colorado was a success Thursday night as the former Toronto goaltender helped the Avalanche beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 for their first win after three one-goal losses with Peter Budaj in net. “It’s always nice to win,” Tony Granato said after his first win in his second stint as Colorado’s coach. “We’ve played extremely well in different parts of the four games and tonight we played pretty much the entire 60 the way we’d like to play all year.”
And the thoroughly outplayed Flyers (0-3-1) fear this could be a harbinger of a bad season if they don’t stop the bleeding now.
Coach John Stevens met with his captains for 15 minutes post-game and was still fuming afterward.
“There’s more to come. There’s no secret. We got outworked and didn’t win any puck battles. I mean, when you do all the little things so poorly, we ended up being a very easy team to play against and they took advantage of it,” Stevens stewed.
“They’re a desperate team. They hadn’t won a game yet, either. And they came out and every loose puck, every board battle, every puck recovery, it was lopsided tonight and you can’t win hockey games like that, period.”
Everything is going wrong for the Flyers.
“I know it’s a cliche,” said centre Daniel Briere, “but the worst thing we can do is start pointing fingers.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, suggested Flyers captain Mike Richards.
“Well, you can’t point anything out if you’re not doing it yourself, so I don’t think there’s too many guys in the dressing room, including myself, who have had such great games that you can point fingers,” Richards said.
The Flyers had 12 penalties – twice as many as the Avs – and surrendered three goals on power plays.
“When you never have the puck, you’re always chasing, you’re bound to get your stick in the stomach, reach, cross-check, because you’re chasing all the time and you’re always on the defensive side of the puck,” Briere said.
Raycroft is the backup to Peter Budaj, who accepted much of the blame for the Avs’ 0-3 start. Granato said this wasn’t a matter of Budaj being benched, just Raycroft getting his normal one start per week to get into a good rhythm.
Either way, Budaj got a rest, the Avalanche pressured the Flyers early and relied on Raycroft’s steady play in goal and captain Joe Sakic’s three assists to pull out their first win of the season.
“I don’t know if it’s pressure, but you knew you had to have this game,” Sakic said. “We’ve played good hockey, we just weren’t rewarded. We knew if we kept playing the same way we would get rewarded.”
The goals Raycroft allowed came on a 5-on-3 power play and a penalty shot.
“It’s tough to stop those,” Sakic said. “Other than he was great.”
Budaj has allowed 13 goals in three games, and that put pressure on Raycroft, who started 16 games for the Maple Leafs last year before joining the Avalanche after they lost free agent Jose Theodore to Washington.
“You feel that. You don’t want to go 0-4,” Raycroft said. “That’s the bottom of the line, you don’t want to dig to big a hole early in the year.”
His teammates helped him relax by outshooting the Flyers 17-3 in the first period and getting goals from Brett Clark and Marek Svatos against Martin Biron to take a 2-0 lead.
The Flyers scored twice in the second period but both times the Avalanche quickly responded with goals of their own and took a 4-2 lead into the final period.
Milan Hejduk needed less than a minute to reply to Simon Gagne’s goal on a penalty shot, and Cody McCormick responded to Richards’ one-timer on a 5-on-3 advantage with a goal that scooted past Biron with just 35 seconds left in the second period.
“You want to get that first one out of the way,” Wojtek Wolski said. “We were lucky we did it tonight. We would have hoped that it would have been in the first three games. We didn’t want to wait any longer for a win.”
Neither did the Flyers, who have back-to-back games against powerhouse San Jose up next.
“We play like it’s pre-season right now,” Gagne said. “We’re not ready to play. We don’t battle. We don’t do the little things right now. We’re looking for the easy game … We keep playing like that, it’s going to be tough to win a game this year.”
Notes: Budaj is expected to return in goal Saturday night at Dallas. … Colorado outshot Philadelphia 34-18.