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Avalanche look to stay even-keeled, end slump

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Colorado Avalanche arrived in Winnipeg on Wednesday lugging what passes for a slump in their turnaround season as they prepare to meet the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

Fresh off a 3-1 home loss against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, the Avalanche own a two-game winless streak and have lost three of their past four games, scoring seven goals in that period.

Scoring has been an issue for the Avalanche lately. Captain and leading scorer Gabriel Landeskog has two goals and four assists in his past nine games. Center Matt Duchene, the team’s second-leading scorer with 21 points, has one assist in his seven games since returning from an oblique injury that caused him to miss three games.

"We've been struggling offensively," Duchene said after the morning skate. "We've got a lot of guys not scoring now. Every team goes through that at some point in the season."

Still, for their recent struggles, a win against Winnipeg would give the Avalanche their 21st victory of the season, matching the franchise record for most wins through 30 games that was established twice, most recently in the 2000-01 season.

"For us it's about staying even-keel," Landeskog said.

Coach Patrick Roy is electing to look at the recent downturn as a growth opportunity for the Avalanche and views it as a challenge.

"We're very happy," Roy said of Colorado's start. "I think [the slump is] good timing for us to see it happen, in some ways.

"[It] teaches our players that we have to score in different ways and we have to find a way to score the ugly goals as well. It's not always the pretty goals [that happen], but also the ones where we have to drive the net more, the ones where we have to take shots from the point, having traffic in front of the net and using our sticks to redirect pucks."

The Jets simply need wins. A Colorado win would leave the Jets 10 points behind the Avalanche and as many as 11 points behind the Minnesota Wild, depending on their result Thursday at the San Jose Sharks. A quick start by Winnipeg will be necessary against Colorado, which is 17-0-0 when scoring first and also when leading after two periods.

In the middle of a three-game all-Central Division homestand that will conclude with a visit from the Dallas Stars on Saturday, the Jets have struggled to gain any ground in the Western Conference playoff chase, even after a recent 4-2-0 record on their longest road trip of the season.

The Jets lost 2-1 against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, with the game-winning goal coming with three minutes remaining. After facing St. Louis, an opponent that uses its size and strength to play a heavy, grinding game, the Jets must now adjust to offensively minded Colorado.

"They've got a good team with skill, but they're different from St. Louis," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I don't think you want to get in a race with them back and forth."

Jets left wing Evander Kane will miss his fifth consecutive game with a lower-body injury. Kane is not expected to return to game action until next week at the earliest.

Roy elected to start Semyon Varlamov, who was in net against Phoenix. Noel again will return Ondrej Pavelec in goal for the Jets.

Here are the probable lineups for the Avalanche and Jets:


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - PA Parenteau

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon

Jamie McGinn - John Mitchell - Maxime Talbot

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Patrick Bordeleau

Nick Holden - Erik Johnson

Tyson Barrie - Nate Guenin

Andre Benoit - Cory Sarich

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: Brad Malone

Injured: Jan Hejda (knee), Alex Tanguay (knee, hip), Ryan Wilson (back)


Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Chris Thorburn - Olli Jokinen - Devin Setoguchi

Matt Halischuk - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik

James Wright - John Albert - Anthony Peluso

Dustin Byfuglien - Tobias Enstrom

Jacob Trouba - Grant Clitsome

Keaton Ellerby - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec

Al Montoya

Scratched: Adam Pardy, Eric Tangradi

Injured: Zach Bogosian (groin), Evander Kane (lower body), Paul Postma (blood clot), Jim Slater (sports hernia)

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