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NHL Standings And Avalanche Schedule Preview, January 3

We've entered a new year in the NHL and 2011 started off with a bang. The Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins proved to live up to the month-long hype surrounding the event, with Washington emerging the 3-1 victors. Before we examine this next week's slate of games for the Colorado Avalanche, let's take a closer look at how the success of this season's NHL Winter Classic.

Reports are out, and the NHL Winter Classic is the highest rated NHL regular season hockey game in 36 years. Despite an unseasonably warm and wet New Year's Day in Pittsburgh, forcing the game to be postponed to a later primetime spot (and against a BCS bowl), the game was a great success and performed well against college football. This year's game may provide enough evidence that the NHL can compete against college football, and suggesting that next year's game may be placed on New Year's evening instead of first thing in the morning, a ratings boon for the NHL and for NBC. These numbers may also help the league as they negotiate a new television contract this summer.

The most surprising numbers of these ratings is the presence of the Denver market placing fifth with a 7 market share, even without any major connection to the two teams playing in the Classic. Denver has been criticized as a city of fair weather fans, who only support successful teams. This high rating, along with the Colorado Avalanche's presence as a Top 10 ratings market last season, gives credence to the belief that Denver has a strong hockey base and is a legitimate hockey town.

Hopefully, these numbers will help Denver win a Winter Classic of their own in the next couple of years.

Colorado Avalanche Schedule Preview

The Colorado Avalanche's struggles continued last week. They played one of their best games of the season against the Detroit Red Wings but only ended up with a single point in an overtime loss. In their short trip to Alberta, Colorado split games against Calgary and Edmonton before returning home and falling to the Vancouver Canucks, for the fourth time in four games this season. Three points in four games will not get Colorado into the playoffs this season, and Colorado needs to play well this upcoming week at home.

Tuesday, Jan. 4 vs Buffalo Sabres

This year's Buffalo Sabres look little like the team that won the Northeast Division last season. Goalie Ryan Miller has regressed from his spectacular season last year and has a 14-12 record with a 2.74 GAA. Their season suffered a serious setback last week, as leading scorer Derek Roy suffered a torn quad injury that will likely end his season. High hopes in Buffalo appear to be disappearing rapidly.

Thursday, Jan. 6 vs. Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes make their first of two visits to Pepsi Center this month in desperate need of a victory. Though they only have three fewer points than Colorado so far this season, Phoenix finds themselves in last place within the Pacific Division and on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Shane Doan has been as consistent as ever (when healthy) and defenseman Keith Yandle is having a breakout season, leading the Coyotes in scoring. This also marks the return of former Avalanche and fan favorite Wojtek Wolski, who was traded for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter at last year's deadline.

Saturday, Jan. 8 vs. New York Islanders

One of the worst teams in the NHL come to Pepsi Center on Saturday, as the severely disappointing Islanders make their only appearance this season. Young forward John Tavares, drafted just ahead of Matt Duchene in the 2009 NHL Draft, has not been able to carry an Islanders team that is lacking in talent. One of the few bright spots on the team, veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson was just traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, giving New York a gaping hole in net.