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Islanders, Avs looking to end slides

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- Two teams experiencing prolonged slumps, the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche, face off tonight at the Pepsi Center.

The Islanders have gone 1-5-2 since beginning the season with three wins in their first four games, while the Avalanche are in a 1-5-1 slide after winning six of the first eight games.

Both teams will start a goalie -- Al Montoya for New York and Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Colorado -- that played well in relief in the previous game. Montoya stopped 22 of 24 shots after replacing Evgeni Nabokov on Monday in the Islanders' 6-2 loss in Boston, while Giguere turned aside 12 of 13 shots after taking over for Semyon Varlamov on Tuesday in the Avalanche's 5-2 loss in Detroit.

Giguere, who signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract as a free agent July 1, will be making his first home appearance as a member of the Avalanche. He has a 2-1-0 record with a 1.98 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

"I'm very excited," Giguere said after this morning's skate. "I think it's a great building to play in. it should be easier, I guess, to play at home although (it hasn't been). I'm looking forward to playing in front of our home fans. I feel good, rested. If there's any positive to being a backup, at least you should be rested when you get to play, and you should be excited. I feel like a little kid."

The Avalanche have scored just seven goals while losing five of six home games this season. Three of the goals came Oct. 30 in a 3-2 win against Los Angeles.

"This is a must-win for us," said Giguere, who stopped 31 of 34 shots in his previous start, a 4-2 loss in Calgary on Oct. 26. "We have to stop the bleeding right now. We can't let this go on any longer. We need to establish ourselves at home."

The Avalanche, who have gone 0-3-1 in the past four games overall, held a players-only meeting after practice Wednesday.

"We've done enough talking; now it's time to see some action," Giguere said. "We have no chance in hell in this League to make the playoffs if you don't (win at home). We had a good team meeting yesterday afternoon -- players only -- and we made sure that everybody's desperate level needs to go up a bit. Hopefully we will see that tonight."

Avalanche fans won't see left wing Peter Mueller, who had hoped to play after taking part in Wednesday's practice and in this morning's skate. Mueller, who missed all of last season to recover from a concussion, will sit out his 12th consecutive game with what the team lists as a head injury.

"He's still listed as day to day," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We thought there might be a chance that he might play, but after the morning skate … he's not ready yet. He's still improving."

Montoya will make his first start since Oct. 20, when he stopped 26 of 30 shots in a 4-1 loss at Tampa Bay. He owns a 2-2-0 record with a 2.12 GAA and .928 save percentage.

The Islanders, who still are carrying three goalies, will use Rick DiPietro as the backup tonight.

The game also will feature a matchup between the Islanders' John Tavares and the Avalanche's Matt Duchene, the first and third picks, respectively, in the 2009 Entry Draft.

Tavares has 2 goals in the three previous meetings, all New York wins, while Duchene has none. Tavares leads the Islanders in scoring this season with 8 goals and 5 assists in 12 games. Duchene is tops among Avalanche scorers with 5 goals and 7 assists in 15 games.

The Islanders have beaten the Avalanche five times in a row and are 7-0-2 against Colorado since a 1-0 regulation loss in Denver on Nov. 16, 2001.
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