Hurricanes-Avalanche Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche may be the biggest surprise in the NHL so far this season.

First-year coach Patrick Roy is particularly pleased with their dramatic improvement defensively.

The Avalanche look to continue their outstanding start to 2013-14 on Friday night against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

Colorado (8-1-0) missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2012-13 thanks in large part to surrendering an average of 3.13 goals.

The Avalanche have been the best defensive team in the league in October, yielding 1.33 goals per game behind goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Roy, though, feels the credit goes beyond the goalies.

"I'm pleased to see the way we're playing defensively. It's a commitment of the six guys on the ice," the Hall of Fame goaltender said. "We know we have great goaltending, but our defensemen have played well."

Still, it's difficult to overlook the contributions from Varlamov and Giguere. Varlamov, who may get the start Friday, has a 1.68 goals-against average while winning five of six starts, while Giguere has a 0.67 GAA while winning all three starts.

Giguere helped engineer Colorado's latest impressive effort, making 34 saves in Monday's 1-0 win at Pittsburgh for his second shutout of the season.

"It's a new season, new attitude," he said. "I would have believed being over .500 (early) but not 8-1."

Having Varlamov in net against the Hurricanes (4-3-3) could keep the Avalanche rolling. He's 3-0-2 with a 1.91 GAA over his last five starts against them, though those came with Washington and the most recent was in March 2011.

Gabriel Landeskog has scored a goal in each of the last three games and also added an assist. The captain found the net on his only shot against the Penguins, and he had one tally in a 4-3 overtime victory over visiting Carolina on Feb. 10, 2012.

Matt Duchene leads Colorado with six goals and nine points, but he was held off the score sheet for just the third time this season Monday.

The Hurricanes are trying to conclude a four-game road trip with a third victory after falling 3-1 at Minnesota on Thursday. However, they were dealt a much more serious blow when Cam Ward suffered a lower-body injury early in the game and was ruled out for at least three weeks.

Justin Peters made his season debut in relief of Ward and stopped 19 of 21 shots.

"I knew before long I was hopefully going to get an opportunity. It just came a little earlier than I thought," Peters said. "Once I got into the game, I definitely felt a little more comfortable. I'm just trying to prove to myself that I'm an NHL goalie and instill that trust in the team."

Peters went 4-11-1 with a 3.46 GAA in 19 games - 16 starts - last season.

Eric Staal has a five-game points streak after assisting on Alexander Semin's goal Thursday, and he had a goal and an assist in Carolina's most recent trip to Denver.

Semin has done his best work on the road so far this season, getting four of his five points in four games as the visitor.

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