A division leader typically would welcome a home game against a last-place club to help break out of a slump, but that might not be the case Sunday for the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks try to halt their recent slide and avoid a season-series sweep by the Colorado Avalanche when the teams face off at the Honda Center.
For the season's first three months, it appeared Anaheim (35-17-10) would coast to the Pacific Division crown and possibly the top seed in the Western Conference. The Ducks raced to a 27-4-6 start through Dec. 20, when they led the Pacific by 12 points over San Jose and held an 11-point edge on Nashville for the conference lead.
Anaheim has stumbled to an 8-13-4 mark since and now trails the Predators and Detroit by six points for the top spot in the West. Friday night's 4-1 loss at Dallas, the third defeat in a row for the Ducks, further tightened the Pacific race. Anaheim's division lead is down to three points over the Sharks and five points over the third-place Stars.
"We just didn't compete like we needed to," Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer said Thursday. "This was an important game for both teams and we didn't respond to it. It's upsetting for sure."
The Ducks allowed the first four goals against Dallas and didn't score until Corey Perry's unassisted tally with 4:45 to avoid being shut out for the fourth time this month. Anaheim has scored two goals or fewer in five of its last eight games, going 2-4-2 over that span.
"This is as flat as we've been all year and I don't know why," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "In the situation we're in, in this important of a game, this made a statement."
Anaheim may not have come out flat in its last matchup with the Avalanche, but the Ducks still came up short on Feb. 13 at Denver. They put 39 shots on net, but Colorado goaltender Peter Budaj stopped them all to lead the Avs to a 2-0 win - his second shutout of 2006-07.
It was the third victory in as many meetings this season for Colorado against the Ducks, although the earlier two games both went to shootouts. Since the end of the lockout, the Avalanche are 6-0-1 versus Anaheim.
Despite the success in this series, Colorado (29-28-5) occupies last place in the Northwest Division and is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1993-94, when the franchise was in Quebec. The Avalanche have never finished lower than second in a division since moving to Denver.
Colorado opened its two-day Southern California road trip Saturday night with its fourth loss in five games, squandering a two-goal lead in the final five minutes of regulation at Los Angeles before falling 6-5 in a shootout.
Former Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake tied the game with 4 seconds left in the third period, and Dustin Brown beat Budaj in the sixth round of the shootout to send the Avs to defeat.
"It was a killer. This one stings," said Colorado coach Joel Quenneville, whose team is 10 points out of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining.
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic extended his assist streak to 10 games in the loss, matching Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis for the longest such streak in the NHL this season. Sakic has five goals and 14 assists during his run.