The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL this season, and in their most recent game pulled off something that hasn't been done in nearly a year.
Coming off a nine-goal performance, the high-powered Avalanche look to win their third straight Wednesday when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Colorado (16-12-1) scored five times in the second period on its way to a 9-5 victory over St. Louis on Sunday. The Avs' goal total was the highest in a game since Jan. 4, when Toronto beat Boston 10-2 and San Jose defeated Detroit 9-4.
The Avs scored nine goals even though franchise career points leader Joe Sakic was out for a fifth straight game with a sore groin, an injury that's expected to keep him sidelined at least two more contests.
Milan Hejduk led the offensive assault Sunday, scoring in each period for his fifth career hat trick to go along with three assists. The goal output was the Avalanche's highest since a 9-2 win at Vancouver on March 8, 2004 - which also featured a Hejduk hat trick.
"He's always been a top-caliber guy and probably the best goal scorer on this team," said Avalanche center Paul Stastny, who had two goals and three assists. "Even when Joe (Sakic) was (healthy) he was stepping up, and now he's gotten a couple more goals when we've needed it."
Hejduk, named the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday, has a point in seven straight games, totaling seven goals and seven assist in that span. The former 50-goal scorer has 13 goals and 13 assists on the season.
Sunday marked the 12th time the Avalanche have scored at least four goals this season - only the Red Wings have reached the four-goal mark as many times - and Colorado is 11-1-0 in those games. The Avs' 91 goals are second to the Wings' 104 in the Western Conference.
The lone game the Avalanche lost when they scored four times happened last Wednesday, though, 5-4 at Columbus. Colorado, however, won the other meeting this season 5-1 on Oct. 13, and has completely dominated the series since the Blue Jackets entered the league in 2000, going 22-2-1 with one tie. The Avalanche have outscored Columbus 101-40 in those 26 games.
The Blue Jackets (13-11-6) are in the midst of a stretch in which they play 11 of 13 at home before the end of 2007. They're 1-1-2 in the first four games, the lone win coming against Colorado.
Their most recent loss, 4-3 in overtime to Anaheim on Monday, was due largely to uncharacteristically poor penalty killing. Columbus is one of the league's best at killing off penalties at 86.9 percent, but allowed three goals on six power plays to the Ducks. The fourth goal came on a penalty shot.
"There were some confusing calls," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Though Columbus has struggled to score goals - Rick Nash has 18 and Nikolai Zherdev 12, but no other Blue Jacket has more than five - Pascal Leclaire has kept them in most every game.
Leclaire is 10-6-3 in 21 starts and leads the league with six shutouts. His goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.927) are among the league's best.
Those statistics are more impressive considering he hasn't won in his last five starts as the Blue Jackets have struggled offensively, scoring just 10 times in those games. Leclaire was pulled during the team's one win in that stretch, the victory over Colorado, after allowing three second-period goals.
Columbus' 77 goals are among the fewest in the West.
Jose Theodore will play between the pipes in Wednesday's game against Columbus. - Denver Post
Manny Malhotra will play on Wednesday. Malhotra was sidelined with a knee injury. Columbus is looking forward to having Malhotra and teammate Jiri Novotny back in the lineup to help kill penalties. Jiri Novotny will play in Wednesday's game. He suffered a concussion on November 23 and hasn't played since. - Columbus Dispatch