A lack of scoring has been the primary culprit as the Colorado Avalanche have slipped from playoff position.
It will be a tall task to change that against the Calgary Flames, who've moved into the lead in the Northwest Division mainly because of a stifling defense.
In his second game back from a lengthy injury, Avalanche captain Joe Sakic will hope to revitalize Colorado's offense on Tuesday, when the Avs visit the Flames and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who has stopped 76 of the 77 shots he's faced in the last two games.
|Joe Sakic will look to spark a sputtering offense against red-hot Miikka Kiprusoff (left), who has stopped 76 of 77 shots in his last two games. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
Sakic had an assist in his return on Sunday after missing 38 games resulting from hernia surgery, but the Avalanche still lost for the sixth time in seven games, falling 3-2 at Edmonton.
The Avs (31-26-6) haven't scored more than two goals in regulation in any of their last seven, managing just nine total goals over that span. They had a 2-0 lead against the Oilers after one period on Sunday, but couldn't score the rest of the way.
"You can't give up games like this," Sakic said. "The good thing for us is that from here on out most of our games are divisional games and teams we have to catch and we have to beat those teams. Games like this though, you can't afford to lose these."
More help will be on the way after Colorado agreed Monday to bring back 2003 league MVP Peter Forsberg for the rest of the season. Forsberg won two Stanley Cups in his nine seasons with the Avs, but the 34-year-old center played a total of only 57 games last season for Philadelphia and Nashville.
Avs leading scorer Paul Stastny did make his return Friday, when Colorado beat Phoenix 3-2 in a shootout. Stastny still leads the team with 32 assists and 50 points despite missing five weeks after an appendectomy.
|Paul Stastny scored a goal in his return Friday. (AP Photo/Roy Dabner)
The Avs had trouble replacing his production, and have fallen to fourth place in the Northwest. But they're four points out of a playoff spot and just six behind the first-place Flames (33-22-8), who were six points behind Minnesota a little more than a week ago.
But Calgary has won its last four games while allowing only four total goals over that span. Kiprusoff has played in three of those games, allowing just two goals while stopping 100 shots, as teammate Jarome Iginla called him "pretty much unbeatable this week."
He had 38 saves on Sunday as the Flames won 2-1 at Minnesota, leapfrogging the Wild for the division lead.
"It's crazy. Every game is huge, and I think that's how it's going to be the rest of the year," Kiprusoff said. "We can't worry too much about other teams. We just have to keep winning."
The Flames' last three wins have come against Dallas, Detroit and the Wild, all division leaders at the time. Kiprusoff also made 38 saves on Friday in a 1-0 win over the Red Wings, who are one of just four NHL teams scoring more than three goals per game.
Calgary has executed the same bend-but-don't-break defense in all three games, getting outshot by a combined 108-60 but limiting its opponents' quality chances.
"We played a very conservative game to take away as much neutral zone as we could," Flames coach Mike Keenan said after the win over Minnesota. "You have to win in different ways, and I'm happy with the way we won today."
The Flames have also won their last two games against Colorado by a combined 9-3 after having lost the previous seven meetings with the Avs. But they haven't played since Nov. 24, when Calgary won 5-2 in Denver.