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Flying under the radar, youthful Avalanche quietly off to a sizzling start

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - A sizzling start by the Colorado Avalanche has been largely overlooked because of a quarterback down the street.

Tim Tebow casts that big of shadow over the Mile High City.

The Avs don't mind. They relish flying under the radar, especially because this youthful squad was picked by many to finish near the basement of the Western Conference for a second straight season.

Behind the play of rookie Gabriel Landeskog and a pair of goalies they picked up in the off-season, the Avs are quietly off to one of their fastest starts (5-1) in team history.

And that's where the attention on Tebow comes in handy.

With Tebow around, the Avs can stay out of the spotlight for a while.

"I wouldn't make a huge deal out of this. It's still early," forward Milan Hejduk said after practice Wednesday. "But we definitely showed this is a promising team with lots of talent, good goaltending and will give trouble to any team."

That was quite evident during their first-ever 5-0 road swing that just concluded. The Avs won in all sorts of ways—beating Columbus and Montreal in shootouts, relying on goalie Semyon Varlamov for a 1-0 win over Boston, trouncing Ottawa and getting an overtime goal from David Jones in Toronto.

This is quite a difference from the end of last season, when the team fell apart and wound up second-to-last in the league.

Back then, the Avs were asked all the time about what was wrong.

Now, it's all about what's going right?

"It's funny how things flip-flop," said All-Star forward Matt Duchene, whose team hosts Chicago on Thursday night. "We know it can go back the other way. We're trying to caution against getting overconfident.

"They will start to catch on after a while; that's when the real work will begin."

In training camp, Hejduk was calmly trumpeting this team. Given time to mature, he felt the Avs could develop into a contender. Even he didn't count on the cohesion being created so fast, though.

"Hopefully, we'll keep it up and keep winning hockey games," Hejduk said.

And maybe steal back some headlines from Tebow.

"I don't know if anything will knock him off the front page," Duchene said, chuckling. "It's been talked about since he's been here."

At least one Broncos player is taking notice of the red-hot Avalanche, who practise just a short drive away from Dove Valley. Receiver Eric Decker is a big fan.

More specifically, he's a big fan of defenceman Erik Johnson, who, like Decker, grew up in Minnesota.

"They're good," Decker said. "I know before the season started they were pretty excited about the pickups they got and the team they have. Isn't that a young team? They've got some skilled guys."

Especially in goal.

Colorado shored up its goalie situation over the summer by trading for Varlamov and then signing veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere to serve as his mentor and backup.

Both have been sensational so far in net, facing a combined 189 shots and allowing just 12 goals.

"They've given us a chance to win. That's all you can ask from your goaltending," coach Joe Sacco said. "It's exactly what we expected from them."

But this could hardly be what was expected out of Landeskog—not this quick at least. Landeskog, the second overall pick in the draft, already has two goals and an assist this season.

"Seems like he's the real deal, a talented guy," Hejduk said. "He's strong with the puck for an 18-year-old kid."

And then there's his work ethic. Landeskog is frequently one of the last players off the ice at practice, working on his shot in peaceful bliss.

After a workout on Wednesday, Landeskog arrived at his locker dripping sweat and then went searching for an Avs baseball cap before fielding questions.

"Having one of those bad hair days," he said, grinning. "There's a lot of areas in my game I need to get better at. I'm aware of that. At the same time, being my first NHL road trip, my first few games here, I'm feeling pretty good."

The play of Landeskog has helped in the absence of Peter Mueller, who's been sidelined recently with a head injury. That's a red flag with Mueller missing all of last season with a concussion.

"Feeling great," said Mueller, who will sit out the game Thursday. "Just getting everything back in the loop; waiting for my time.

"The boys have really been going hard. It's not easy to come out of that road trip 5-0. But we managed to do that."

Johnson agreed, but quickly added it's simply one step along the way of a long season.

"We've found our groove pretty early and it's obviously helped us out," he said. "Playoffs aren't won in the beginning of the season, but they're lost. A lot of points are given away early on. We want to pick up as much as we can. We've got to continue to play the way we can play. If we do that, we should be very successful."


AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this story.


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