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Avalanche looking for victories, positive attitude amid slump

Have won five of past 24 games, but remain in thick of playoff race in West

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- After struggling to get points for the past two months, the Colorado Avalanche had mixed emotions about the one they earned in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Thursday.

On one hand, they came back after trailing 3-1 in the third period to force overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions when it appeared they wouldn't get any points. On the other hand, it was difficult for them to be satisfied when they needed two points.

"It's a big point," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "But at this point, we're looking for wins, not points."

The Avalanche (22-22-9) will try to end a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) when they play the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; MSG+, ALT, NHL.TV). 

They never imagined they'd be in this position after they improved to 17-7-5 with a 5-2 victory against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 6, when they were tied with the Nashville Predators for the most points in the Western Conference with 39. 

They are 5-15-4 since then, and their 14 points in that span are the fewest in the NHL.

Perhaps that was why coach Jared Bednar chose the glass-half-full view of getting one point against the Capitals.

"I feel good about getting one out of this, especially when you go down 3-1 to the Caps at home," Bednar said. "There's a lot of positives and right now the way things have been going for us, I think we've got to build on the positives."

It's been difficult for the Avalanche to find positives lately, but the biggest one is that despite their extended slide they are two points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. 

That's because none of the teams around them have been able to pull away in a wild West race.

The Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks have 53 points each. The Blues, who own the second wild card, and the Vancouver Canucks have 55 points each. The Minnesota Wild hold the first wild card in the West with 57 points. Even the Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks (51 points each) and the Los Angeles Kings (50) are not out of it.

"We're lucky the West is bad this year," Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said. "If we were in the East, we'd be 10 points out. So, we're lucky everyone's kind of lost separately. It's been weird. We had a great start, we were first in our division, and we've been just losing ever since. So, we're lucky. 

"It feels like we're 30 points out, but we're only two and we need to remind ourselves of that." 

Losing in overtime to the Capitals -- Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the winner on a breakaway with 48 seconds remaining -- brought a familiar frustration. Colorado is 1-8 in games decided in overtime this season and, with a 0-1 shootout record, is 1-9 in games that have gone beyond regulation.

"Again, the OT. I don't know what's wrong with us," forward Mikko Rantanen said. "Always we give up one breakaway and usually it's in the back of the net."

Video: Kuznetsov's OT winner propels Capitals past Avalanche

Getting enough saves from goalies Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer has been an issue. Varlamov had some good moments in making 38 saves Thursday, but he also let in a strange one to Matt Niskanen that went in off his blocker 34 seconds into the third period to make it a 3-1 game.

In their 24 games since defeating Florida on Dec. 6, the Avalanche have allowed 96 goals, the most in the NHL over that span, on 718 shots, the second fewest in the League behind the Blues (669). Of the 47 goalies who have played in at least 10 games since Dec. 6, Varlamov is 46th in the NHL with a .876 save percentage, and Grubauer is 47th at .869. 

But the Avalanche say it's more about the quality of chances they've been giving up.

"We just make a lot of big mistakes, a lot of big gaps," MacKinnon said. "Obviously, everything is magnified when you lose. When you win, those mistakes kind of get covered up and you don't really see them in video or things like that. So it's been tough."

With 29 games remaining, the Avalanche have enough time to turn things around and qualify for the playoffs for the second straight season. But the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is approaching on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, and if the Avalanche continue to lose at this rate, general manager Joe Sakic will have to make some difficult decisions.

"We know that if we don't start winning, then guys are going to start being moved and that's just the reality of the matter," Landeskog said. "Whether it's at the deadline or in the summer, that's just the way it works. If the team's not producing, if the team's not doing what it's supposed to do, then changes are inevitable. We know that's the nature of the beast and we love each other in here and we love the group that we've got. 

"It would be unfortunate to see this group get split up, but we've got a few more weeks to make sure we put ourselves in a position to be buyers or at least happy with what we've got and see what we can do with this group."

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