DENVER (AP) -The Colorado Avalanche are back in first place, thanks to strong goaltending and some solid play from the rookies.
Jose Theodore made 26 saves, and the Avalanche got a goal and an assist from two of the six first-year players in the lineup to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Sunday night.
The win jumped Colorado from fourth in the crowded Northwest Division into a tie for first with Calgary, one point ahead of Minnesota and Vancouver.
Ben Guite, Tyler Arnason and rookie Jeff Finger each had a goal, and Ian Laperriere had two assists for the Avalanche, who split the four-game season series with Columbus.
"We're not going to sit back and wait for our big dogs to get back," said rookie defenseman Finger, who scored the first goal of the game. "We know we're missing some offense, but we're still going forward and we're going to try to get as many points as we can with those guys out."
|Rick Nash passes the puck as Colorado Avalanche left winger Andrew Brunette comes in to cover in the second period of Columbus' 3-1 loss at Denver on Sunday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)|
The Avalanche have been hit hard by injuries. Stars Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth are on the injured list, so Colorado has had to poach players from Lake Erie, its AHL affiliate.
So far, it hasn't been a problem. The Avalanche have won four of their last five, and their one loss came in a shootout.
"Everybody is contributing," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought it was a real solid win across the board."
Theodore's play has helped. The 2002 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner has started the last eight games, and he is 5-2-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average over that stretch.
"Things are going well," Theodore said. "The players are playing so well in front of me. They're letting me see the puck and taking care of the rebounds."
Theodore showed flashes of his 2002 self in the second period with a great save on Rick Nash, who came down the left side and had an open net. But Theodore slid over and made a sprawling glove save on Nash's backhand try.
"As good as I've seen since he's been here," Quenneville said. "That was a signature save."
The save came after Finger and Guite had given Colorado a 2-0 lead. Finger scored his fourth goal of the season and his second in three games with a blast from just inside the blue line with 2:03 left in the first period.
Midway through the second, Guite gave Colorado a two-goal cushion with his fourth of the season. Pascal Leclaire, who had 24 saves for the Blue Jackets, couldn't cover up a shot from rookie David Jones and Guite knocked it in with his second swing at the loose puck.
"Jones made a quick shot on net and I think it surprised (Leclaire)," Guite said. "I don't know if it hit my skate or my stick, but I just kept whacking at it."
It was Jones' first NHL point in his third career game.
Arnason gave Colorado a 3-0 lead with his fourth goal of the season and first since Nov. 7, just 3:33 into the third period. Forty seconds later, Fredrik Modin made it 3-1 with his first goal of the year.
Columbus pulled Leclaire with 29.4 seconds left for an extra attacker but didn't score.
It was a frustrating loss for the Blue Jackets, who lost their second road game in as many nights after winning four straight.
"No reason to panic," said Leclaire, who saw his personal four-game winning streak snapped. "There is a lot of hockey left to play. We'll put the last two games behind us."
Notes: Colorado D Jordan Leopold missed his second straight game with an illness. ... Columbus C Sergei Fedorov sat out Sunday's game with flue-like symptoms. ... The Avalanche recalled Jones from Lake Erie of the AHL on Saturday. ... Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock declined to speak to the media after the game. ... The Blue Jackets are 3-3-2 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. ... Columbus rookie Derick Brassard recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Modin's goal.