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Avs looking for answers in search to snap skid

by Rick Sadowski
CENTENNIAL, Colo. –- The free-falling Colorado Avalanche practiced for about 90 minutes Tuesday while awaiting word on the health of Matt Duchene, who suffered a hand injury in Monday's 9-1 shellacking by Calgary.

"He injured his hand and he's being examined," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said following the workout at the South Suburban Family Sports Center. "He's being examined as we speak right now. I'll know more in the morning, but right now we'll just list him as day to day."

The Avalanche can ill afford to lose the 20-year-old center for any length of time as the team battles for its playoff life. Duchene, who leads Colorado in scoring with 21 goals and 47 points in 57 games, was struck by a shot late in the second period.

Not that the Avalanche have been able to do much of anything right even with Duchene in the lineup during an eight-game losing streak, the longest since the team arrived in Denver in 1995-96. The Avalanche have been outscored 35-12 in the skid and have plummeted to 14th place in the Western Conference.

"We're all in this together right now," are the words Sacco relayed to his players before leaving the ice Tuesday. "Obviously we need a win to feel better about ourselves. The message was, no one should feel like they're on an island isolated by themselves."

The Avalanche, who haven't won since a 4-3 victory against St. Louis on Jan. 24, take on the Pittsburgh Penguins pn Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, where they own a 14-14-3 record and have lost four games in a row.
"We're all in this together right now. Obviously we need a win to feel better about ourselves. The message was, no one should feel like they're on an island isolated by themselves."." -- Avalanche coach Joe Sacco
"Certainly the responsibility is on my shoulder," Sacco said. "My preparation doesn't waver; things don't change for me. Our job is to prepare our players as best as possible for every game. Obviously we're nearing a situation like we're in right now where you lose a little bit more sleep.

"You just try to keep working, keep plugging along. We have to get a win. My job is to make sure everybody is pulling together in the same direction, that we don't have guys going in one direction and another direction. Once we get that first win, certainly we'll feel a lot better.

"When you lose eight games, it's not fun. Certainly the mood around the room is different than it has been. It's a fine line; it's not all fun and games, but at the same time you have to make sure that the guys don't bury their heads in the sand and feel too sorry for themselves. We're the ones who put ourselves in the situation and we're the ones that will get ourselves out."

Things were looking much rosier in mid-December, when Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots in a 3-2 victory against Montreal that gave the Avalanche a six-game winning streak and a 19-10-4 record.

Since then, the Avalanche have played 24 games, permitted two or fewer goals just twice and posted a 6-16-2 record. Once the highest-scoring team in the NHL, the Avalanche have averaged barely more than two goals a game in this stretch while allowing 3.75 per game.

"We weren't playing too well even before the losing streak," forward Daniel Winnik said. "If you look back, since that winning streak in December, we've won (six) games. Maybe that was the start of it. We haven't been able to string games together and play consistent hockey."

As a group, the Avalanche have been fearful of making mistakes and perhaps trying to do too much rather than playing on instinct.

"I've played that way before in my career, in the second half of my second year, and it's losing hockey," Winnik said. "You're not productive. Joe said it today, scared hockey is losing hockey. It's not X's and O's, it's all mental."

Until Monday, the Avalanche had never given up as many as nine goals in a game since the franchise moved from Quebec. Sacco replaced goalie Peter Budaj with Anderson 5:57 into the first period, put Budaj back in for the entire second period and replaced him again with Anderson at 9:16 of the third.

"It wasn't their fault," Sacco said of the goalie changes. "I'm not usually a guy that switches goaltenders in and out during the course of a game. Last night was a different circumstance."

As if poor defense, poor special teams play and poor goaltending haven't been enough of a problem, too many of the Avalanche's top offensive threats have stopped scoring.

Defenseman John-Michael Liles, who was a minus-6 Monday, has one goal in the past 30 games; Duchene has three goals in 14 games; Milan Hejduk has two goals in 11 games; Chris Stewart has one goal in 12 games since returning from a broken hand; Paul Stastny has one goal in 14 games.

The Avalanche have yet to win a game this season when they score fewer than three goals, posting a 0-22-2 record in those 24 games.

A rash of injuries also have taken a toll. Seven players are currently recovering from various ailments and the Avalanche have lost 280 man games to injury and illness overall.

"When times are bad, you really find out about people's character," Stastny said. "We have to keep our heads up and stay positive. I remember a couple years ago we had 10, 15 games left and we just kind of fell off the wagon. We have to make sure that doesn't happen here."

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