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Even without their captain, the Colorado Avalanche are cruising.

With Joe Sakic's return nearing, the Avalanche look to make it a Southern California sweep Wednesday when they visit the Anaheim Ducks.

Sakic has been out since Nov. 30 with a groin injury and didn't make the trip to California, but he could return soon after Colorado returns to Denver for a four-game homestand starting Friday. In the meantime, the Avs (19-13-1) have won three in a row and five of their last six, including a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles Monday.

Colorado outshot the Kings 40-21, including a 16-4 edge in the first period while building a 3-0 lead.

"We came out really strong in the first period and we kind of rode that through the game," Avalanche 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."

Colorado is one of just eight NHL teams with at least 100 goals. Its top line of Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk has 38 points in the last nine games.

But the Avs' improved defense has keyed their recent run. Colorado has allowed just four total goals during its current three-game winning streak, as goalie Peter Budaj has racked up 80 saves on 84 shots.

Colorado has won two in a row on the road after starting just 4-10-1 away from Denver.

"We've been playing better as a team, and we're harder to play against," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're more diligent with our positioning and playing the kind of road game that can frustrate the opposition and lead to turnovers."

Anaheim (16-15-5) ended a three-game losing streak with a 2-0 victory at San Jose on Tuesday night. In the second game of his return after considering retirement, Scott Niedermayer registered his first point of the season, assisting on rookie Bobby Ryan's second-period goal.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 20 saves for his first shutout of the season.

"My goal should be overshadowed by Giggy's effort," Ryan said of Giguere, who had allowed three or more goals in six of his previous eight games. "He was outstanding."

Still, it's been a struggle recently for the Ducks, who haven't scored more than two goals in any of their last four games, including three straight losses at home.

This is the first meeting between these teams this season. Anaheim ended a four-game slide against the Avalanche with a 5-3 home victory in the last matchup on Feb. 25.

There will be a new dynamic to the rivalry this season, as the Avs are not fond of new Ducks right wing Todd Bertuzzi. When he was with the Vancouver Canucks in March 2004, Bertuzzi attacked then-Avalanche center Steve Moore, knocking him unconscious, breaking three vertebrae and possibly ending his career.

Moore has not played since the incident. Bertuzzi has not faced Colorado since April 2006, when he was still with Vancouver.

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