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Tony Granato believes his first stint as Colorado Avalanche coach could help make his second one more successful.
His latest begins Thursday night when the Avalanche open at home against the Boston Bruins, who look to build off their first playoff appearance in three seasons.
Granato, a 13-year NHL veteran, returns to the main post behind the Colorado bench after replacing Joel Quenneville, who led the Avalanche to 95 points and the Western Conference semifinals after they missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons in 2006-07.
Most recently an assistant with the team, Granato coached the Avalanche from 2002-2004 after inheriting the team from Bob Hartley during 2002-03. Granato led Colorado to a pair of 100-point seasons, but failed to advance past the conference semifinals.
He believes he's more confident and relaxed this time around.
"You always learn a lot," said Granato, who was replaced by Quenneville in July 2004. "You try to get better each day. We're excited to get this thing going."
With Joe Sakic back for a 20th season to join veterans Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, newcomer Darcy Tucker and young stars Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, Granato hopes to instill more tempo on offense for a team that was in the middle of the pack with 231 goals last season.
"We want to be a speed team, a team that dictates the pace of the game with our quickness," Granato said of the Avalanche, who were swept by eventual Stanley Cup champ Detroit in the semifinals a season ago.
Despite battling injuries in 2007-08, Sakic recorded 40 points in 40 games and ranks eighth on the NHL all-time list in points (1,629), 11th in assists (1,006) and 14th in goals (623).
"Him being 100 percent and feeling excited and ready to go gets everybody else that much more excited," Stastny said. "I like what we've got here."
While Stastny led the team with 47 assists and 71 points in 66 games during a solid sophomore season, Colorado hopes Smyth can stay healthy. After signing a five-year deal worth $31.25 million, injuries limited him to 55 games with 14 goals and 23 assists.
With Jose Theodore now in Washington, Peter Budaj assumes the team's No. 1 goaltender role. After winning 31 games in 2006-07, Budaj went 16-10-4 with a 2.57 goals-against average . Now with Andrew Raycroft coming over from Toronto as insurance, Budaj is poised to prove the Avalanche made the right choice by going with him to start.
"They gave me the chance, telling me I'm the guy," Budaj said. "I'm going to do my best and show them I'm capable of being the No. 1."
The Avalanche franchise is 16-5-7 record during season openers, topping all NHL teams with a .696 winning percentage, but faces Boston for the first time since winning 2-0 there on March 6, 2007.
The Bruins are eager to prove their 94-point season under coach Claude Julien was not a fluke.
Despite losing star Patrice Bergeron for almost the entire season due to a serious concussion, Boston won 41 games to finish second in the Northeast Division and secure its first playoff berth since 2003-04. Though the Bruins lost in seven games to Montreal in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the 18-point improvement from 2006-07 should continue to open the eyes of their opponents.
"I think it's going to make us have to work harder," second-year forward Milan Lucic said. "In the end, I think it is a good thing for us."
Bergeron, who posted at least 70 points in each of his previous two seasons, had three goals and four assists through 10 games before being injured on Oct. 27 against Philadelphia.
The 23-year-old should give a boost to a club that had two 20-plus goal scorers in Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew, but ranked in the bottom half of the league with 212 goals.
"Getting Bergeron back, he's a big piece," said center Marc Savard, the Bruins leading scorer last season with 78 points. "What we are known for now is being a solid team defensively and working hard every night. So, hopefully, more goals come. But as long as we get wins, that is the bottom line."
The Bruins open with four straight road games before hosting Pittsburgh on Oct. 20.
By the Associated Press with edits by BostonBruins.com
|Oct 09 '08||BOS 5 at COL 4||D. Krejci|