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Avalanche-Blue Jackets Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (31-20-6) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-31-2).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EST.

The new season got off to a sluggish start for both the Colorado Avalanche and their No. 1 goaltender David Aebischer.

Aebischer lost the starting job for a stretch in November, but he and the Avalanche once again make for a formidable foe as they play the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Colorado finished December with 20 wins and 20 total losses, and Aebischer had a 3.59 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. He shouldered a healthy share of the blame for the Avalanche's early struggles.

Aebischer opened the new year with 32 saves, however, in a 3-0 victory Jan. 3 over the Nashville Predators. The win was the first of seven straight for the Avs goaltender, who is 11-3-2 with a 2.41 GAA and .916 save percentage in 16 starts in 2006.

The Avalanche are 11-3-3 in the new year after a 2-1 win Thursday at Minnesota. The victory was their fourth in the last six road contests.

Colorado was outshot 34-27, but Aebischer stopped 33 shots, including 15 in the final 20 minutes.

"I have more confidence and more fun playing the game right now than I had before the season," said Aebischer, who will represent Switzerland at the Olympics. "I don't know why that is, but I'm just pleased the way it's going."

Joe Sakic drove a shot off Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez with 5:44 remaining to break a 1-1 tie. Aebischer thwarted the Wild on a number of third-period scoring chances to help secure the win.

By beating Minnesota, the third-place Avalanche moved within three points of the Calgary Flames, the Northwest Division leaders.

The Blue Jackets also are a third-place team, but they trail the Detroit Red Wings by 33 points in the Central despite winning six of their last seven games.

The Blue Jackets have won five straight at home since being shut out Jan. 18 at Nationwide Arena by Detroit. They are tied for last in goals with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Blue Jackets have averaged 4.8 goals during their home winning streak.

Columbus scored a season-high seven goals Wednesday in a 7-4 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. Trevor Letowski and Jason Chimera each scored twice for the Blue Jackets.

"When you get four goals from your checking line, it's huge," Columbus coach Gerard Gallant said of Letowski, Chimera and Manny Malhotra, who had a pair of assists. "They worked so hard."

David Vyborny had a goal and an assist against the Kings, and he has three goals and nine assists in his last seven games.

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 68 points, 3rd place, 3 PB, Northwest Division. Blue Jackets - 48 points, 3rd place, 33 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 30 goals; Alex Tanguay, 41 assists and 65 points; Ian Laperriere, 88 PIM. Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 18 goals; Vyborny, 27 assists and 43 points; Jody Shelley, 113 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.8 percent (71 for 359), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85 percent (267 for 314), 6th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 15.4 percent (49 for 319), 25th (tied). Penalty killing: 81.4 percent (307 for 377), 18th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Aebischer (22-12-2, 2 SO, 3.06 GAA); Peter Budaj (6-5-4, 0, 2.73). Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (15-18-0, 1, 3.36); Pascal Leclaire (5-10-2, 0, 3.62).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 7, Avalanche, 3-2 (SO). At Denver, Sergei Fedorov forced overtime for the Blue Jackets, but Tanguay scored the game-winning goal in the fourth round of the shootout.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 13-12-1 on the road; Blue Jackets - 15-12-0 at home.

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