DENVER – Even in a suit and tie, Joe Sakic can still dish out assists.
The longtime Colorado captain provided a spark during a pre-game ceremony, and the youthful Avalanche took it from there in a season-opening 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Wojtek Wolski scored two goals and Craig Anderson stopped 38 shots on a night when the Avalanche retired Sakic’s No. 19.
“There was a lot of energy in the building, a lot of excitement,” first-year Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “It was a special night for a special player. It carried over to the game. The building seemed to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
Matt Duchene certainly fed off of it. The 18-year-old rookie grew up idolizing Sakic with posters adorning the walls of his room.
“I’ve been inspired by him since I was eight years old,” said Duchene, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “I had chills going up and down my spine the whole ceremony. It was an unbelievable night.”
Duchene had a night to remember, too. So did fellow rookie Ryan O’Reilly.
While Sakic was the face of the franchise for nearly two decades, the team might be uncovering new ones in these two.
They both made their debuts Thursday, each earning an assist. It is the first time a team has had two 18-year-old players in a season-opening lineup since the Winnipeg Jets played Shane Doan and Jason Doig in 1995-96.
Duchene and O’Reilly logged a lot of action. Duchene brought the crowd to its feet with several slick moves, one that even brought him in all alone on Evgeni Nabokov. But he couldn’t get the forehand shot past the San Jose goalie.
“Obviously, I had some chances offensively and I guess Nabokov had my number,” Duchene said. “Knowing how to score on these goalies is going to come in time.”
By changing his focus, Wolski scored twice on Nabokov. He’s trying to be more of a force in front of the net.
“You see so many goals on little chip-ins, little pokes,” Wolski said. “I’m focusing on having a presence in front of the net.”
Darcy Tucker, Cody McLeod and John-Michael Liles also scored for Colorado.
Patrick Marleau scored both goals for San Jose, which fell to 4-10-4 on opening night.
“We were sloppy in our own zone in the second period, and the power play needs to contribute,” Sharks captain Rob Blake said.
The Avalanche are coming off a season in which they finished last in the Western Conference for the first time since the team moved to Colorado. They made sweeping changes, bringing in a new general manager in Greg Sherman and hiring Sacco, who had been with Lake Erie of the American Hockey League for the last two seasons.
Sacco pledged an uptempo style, and that is precisely how the Avalanche played. Colorado had nine players record assists, including two by Paul Stastny.
To shore up their shaky goalie situation, the Avalanche signed Anderson. The veteran turned in a solid game, thwarting the Sharks on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period. He even stopped a blistering slap shot by Blake from out in front.
“It was a good save,” Blake said. “He made some big saves. We generated some shots on the 5-on-3, but you need to score on that.”
Soon after the two-man advantage ended, the crowd began to chant Anderson’s name. Of his 38 saves, 17 came in the final period.
“They didn’t lose many games last year for a reason,” Anderson said of the Sharks turning up the pressure. “They definitely know how to win.”
Marleau scored both goals off assists from Joe Pavelski. Marleau is starting the season strong after netting a career-high 38 goals in 2008-09.
The Avalanche are starting their 14th season in Denver, and first without Sakic. His number is the third retired since the Avalanche relocated from Quebec in 1995, joining Patrick Roy (33) and Ray Bourque (77).
“That Joe Sakic ceremony was one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen in my life,” Duchene said. “He almost has an aura that kind of rubs off on guys.”
NOTES: Avalanche F David Jones (chest) was scratched from the lineup, along with D Ruslan Salei and F T.J. Hensick. … At 18 years, 236 days, O’Reilly becomes the second youngest player to see action in franchise history. The youngest was Owen Nolan, who beat O’Reilly by two days when he made his debut for the Quebec Nordiques in the 1990-91 season.