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Canucks try to break out of slump vs. surging Avs

by Matthew Mankiewich

AVALANCHE (12-7-1) at CANUCKS (10-7-3)

TV -- Altitude (HD), SNET-Pacific (HD)

Last 10 -- Colorado 7-3-0, Vancouver 5-4-1

Season series -- It's the third of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals. The first two games went the Canucks' way, a 4-3 overtime win in Vancouver on Oct. 26 and a 3-1 regulation win in Colorado on Nov. 4.

Big story -- Despite the Canucks' head-to-head advantage, the Avs lead them by two points in the Northwest Division thanks to a four-game winning streak that's concurrent with a four-game Vancouver slide. With the potential four-point swing, it's a very good opportunity for the Canucks to right themselves quickly while the Avalanche try to hold off upcoming divisional opponents.

Team scope

Avalanche -- They have first place, but the next three games will be more like "King of the Mountain" with three divisional rivals set to knock the Avs off the top. They continue on to Edmonton on Thursday and return home to face Minnesota on Sunday.

First things first, though, and the task at hand is to be ready when the puck drops at Rogers Arena.

"The last time we played Vancouver, at home, it was a big game for us and we came out flat," said Avalanche center Paul Stastny in the Denver Post. "They were all over us, so this time we have to be a lot better than that. We're playing in their home building, they're coming off a loss and they're going to be ready to go."

Canucks -- If the 2-2-1 Eastern swing dropped hints, the 7-1 blowout loss to the Blackhawks on Saturday put it right in everyone's face. They fell behind in four of those five games, and there were slip-ups in the defense. All of that came to a head in Saturday's blowout before an unhappy home crowd.

The effort was better against the Coyotes on Sunday, but the 'Yotes grabbed a two-goal lead and went on to a 3-2 victory. It was the fifth time in seven games the Canucks allowed the first two scores.

"It's tough to win in this league and it's even tougher when you spot teams two goals," center Ryan Kesler said. "It's inexcusable. I thought we played really well in the first, but that means nothing if you come out like that in the second. We need to figure this out quick."

Who's hot -- John-Michael Liles was shut down by the Rangers last Friday, but bounced back with a pair of assists Saturday in Dallas, giving him 9 points in his last six games. He also leads the team with a plus-11 rating. Craig Stewart leads the Avs in points overall and has a four-game streak going.

Injury report -- For the Avs, center Matt Duchene and defenseman Adam Foote took Monday off as a maintenance day, but were back on the ice Tuesday. Goalie Craig Anderson made his return from a knee injury Friday and beat the Rangers 5-1. He then backed up Peter Budaj on Sunday and should be well-rested for a Wednesday start. … Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard missed both weekend games with the flu. Center Alexandre Bolduc (high ankle sprain) is skating again and could return to practice this week. Defenseman Sami Salo (torn Achilles tendon) has been making better-than-expected progress and could be back by mid-December.

Stat pack -- The Canucks' power play leads the NHL at 27.0 percent, but Vancouver ranks 24th in the NHL with 33 goals while at 5-on-5 -- Colorado has 50 in the same number of games. … The Canucks' third line of Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen has only one point among them in the last seven games and are a combined minus-16 over the team's four-game losing streak. … Despite not having the 10-1-2 start they had in 2009-10, the Avs are only two points behind last year's team after 20 games.

Puck drop -- "They're a very tough team from top to bottom. It's a game that I don't think we'll have any trouble getting up for. It's something we have to be prepared for because it's a big divisional game. Right now we're trying to continue a little streak we have going and hopefully we'll continue winning and not look back. It'll definitely be a tough test." -- John-Michael Liles in the Denver Post looking ahead to the matchup

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