Avs Take Over 1st in Northwest Division

Tuesday, December 18th 2007, 7:39 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Goalie Jason LaBarbera returned to the Los Angeles Kings after nursing a rib injury for 3 1-2 weeks, and the Colorado Avalanche quickly took advantage of his rustiness.

Ryan Smyth and Jaroslav Hlinka scored 62 seconds apart, Paul Stastny also had a goal in the first period, and the Avalanche took over first place in the Northwest Division on Monday night with a 4-2 victory _ their fifth in six games.

``It's frustrating,'' LaBarbera said. ``You can't get behind 3-0 against a team like that because you're not going to come back on them. We did a pretty good job trying to _ but what's the point, you know?''

The Avalanche improved to 7-0 when leading after one period. LaBarbera eventually found his form, stopping all 23 shots he faced over the final two periods, and was on the bench when Ben Guite scored into an empty net with 1:07 remaining to clinch it.

``We came out really strong in the first period and we kind of rode that through the game,'' defenseman Scott Hannan said. ``It's always good to get two early goals because it's tough for the other team to come back from those kind of deficits.''

In Monday night's other NHL game, it was Detroit 4, Washington 3 in a shootout.

``We stuck with what we had to do and got rewarded. First place was on the line, and that's the reward,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. ``We've been playing better as a team, and we're harder to play against. We're more diligent with our positioning and playing the kind of road game that can frustrate the opposition and lead to turnovers.''

Defensemen Brett Clark had two assists, the first coming on Smyth's power-play goal. The Avalanche entered the game with only five goals in 65 power plays on the road, the worst mark in the league.

Smyth, who had two goals against the Kings in a 5-2 win on Dec. 1 at Staples Center, opened the scoring in the rematch at the 2:37 mark. He converted a rebound on his backhand from the edge of the crease for his 11th goal, while Dustin Brown was off for holding Clark.

Colorado made it 2-0 with Hlinka's fifth goal. He beat Lubomir Visnovsky to a loose puck above the right circle, tapped it between the defenseman's legs and went in alone on LaBarbera, who committed too early and flopped to the ice as the Avalanche center held onto the puck an extra second before flipping it over him.

At that point, Kings coach Marc Crawford burned the team's only timeout to settle his team, but the Avalanche kept the pressure on. Stastny was credited with his 15th goal at 14:12 of the first when Kings captain Rob Blake inadvertently tapped the puck across the goal line as it was in the crease behind LaBarbera.

``The game was lost on the number of turnovers we had and the number of lost puck battles down low in our end,'' Crawford said. ``Those were the things that ended up being difference makers.''

The only offense the Kings could muster was Brown's power-play goal 36 seconds into the third period, and a short-handed goal by Michal Handzus with 15:14 remaining.

``We played a pretty good game, except maybe for that little lapse on the Brown goal, when we let them come to us for a couple of minutes,'' Ian Laperriere said. ``But you've got to expect that. We're in their building, they've got so much pride on the other team and they took it to us a little bit. But we responded really well. When you put 40 shots on net in the other team's building, it means you did a lot of good things.''

Brown got his stick on Blake's one-timer from 40 feet out in the slot and redirected it between Peter Budaj's legs. Handzus beat Budaj between the pads with a 20-foot wrist shot from the right circle.

It was the first short-handed goal Colorado has given up this season, leaving Ottawa as the only team in the league that hasn't allowed one.

``The guys played great defensively,'' Budaj said. ``I mean, we only allowed 21 shots against a very skilled team. We're thinking defense first. And when that happens, we're going to create chances for ourselves and not allow many. Guys were blocking shots and playing on top of their game. It's nice to see that the team is playing so well in front of me.''

Red Wings 4, Capitals 3, SO

Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Jiri Hudler scored in the shootout to lift host Detroit over Washington.

Tomas Holmstrom had two goals, Zetterberg a goal and an assist and Datsyuk three assists for NHL-leading Detroit in regulation. Dominik Hasek made 27 saves.

Alexander Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Alexander Semin scored for Washington. Olie Kolzig stopped 27 shots, and Semin had a shootout goal for the Capitals.