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Isles continue trip with stop in Denver

by John Kreiser
ISLANDERS (12-20-6) at AVALANCHE (21-15-5)


Last 10 -- New York 7-2-1; Colorado 4-5-1

Season series -- The teams are meeting for the second and final time this season. The Avs came to Long Island on Oct. 16 and left with a 5-2 loss as the Islanders played perhaps their best game of the season. New York also won 3-2 at Colorado last Jan. 6 in the only meeting last season;

Big story -- Though they lost 2-1 at Edmonton on Thursday and are 14th in the East, the Islanders come to Denver playing their best hockey of the season, having beaten Anaheim, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit during their recent surge. The Avs, still in the top eight in the West, have been going the other way -- they are 2-5-1 in their last eight games and have been having trouble scoring. Colorado is coming off a 2-0 home loss to Phoenix on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Islanders -- The Isles have gone from experienced goaltenders to raw rookies in goal in a week. Dwayne Roloson was traded to Tampa Bay on Jan. 1 and Rick DiPietro went down with a groin injury two days later, leaving the goaltending to 27-year-old Nathan Lawson and 20-year-old Kevin Poulin. Lawson looked sharp in relief of DiPietro in a 5-2 win at Calgary on Monday, but was beaten twice in the first 5:17 at Edmonton three nights later. That brought on Poulin, who was perfect in his NHL debut even though the Isles lost the game.

"I was pretty comfortable on the ice," Poulin said. "My defensemen did a good job of clearing the front of the net and letting me see the puck."

With back-to-back games at Colorado and Chicago, don't be surprised if each goaltender starts once.

Avalanche -- The Avs are still in the top eight in the West, but they're not playing well. Phoenix came into the Pepsi Center on Thursday and left with a 2-0 victory behind backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera, who stopped all 34 shots he faced.

"It's frustrating when you lose, whether it's 1-0 or 5-4," said Avs goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 31 saves and allowed just one goal. "A loss is a loss and you've got to be frustrated. But you've got to learn from it. I think we played a really good game; we just didn't generate enough offense."

Who's hot -- Isles center John Tavares has 5 goals and 13 points in his last 10 games. … Colorado's Matt Duchene, picked two spots behind Tavares at the top of the 2009 Entry Draft, has 3 goals and 6 points in his last six games. Duchene has 16 goals and 40 points, both tops on the Avs, while Tavares has 13 goals and a team-high 27 points.

Injury report -- DiPietro headed home on Friday to have his injured groin re-evaluated and won't play this weekend. Defenseman Mark Eaton (hip) is expected to have hip surgery and is out indefinitely. Center Frans Nielsen (groin) is day-to-day; he missed Thursday's game at Edmonton. New York is also without defenseman Mark Streit and forward Kyle Okposo (shoulder surgery), forward Trent Hunter (knee surgery), center Doug Weight (back) and defensemen Radek Martinek (wrist) and Mike Mottau (hip surgery). … Colorado forward Chris Stewart (broken hand) is skating again, and defenseman Kyle Cumiskey (concussion) has been cleared for full-contact practice. Defenseman Cody McLeod (groin) is day-to-day, while defenseman Kyle Quincey (shoulder surgery) is out for the season and center Peter Mueller (concussion) has yet to play this season.

Stat pack -- The Avs dominated the Islanders in the first few years after the franchise moved from Quebec, but the Isles have been getting even. Colorado won the first eight meetings and 10 of the first 12 after relocating from Quebec, but the Isles are 6-0-1-1 in the last eight and have won three in a row. … Colorado is 2-13-1 when scoring less than three goals.

Puck drop -- How much tighter is the Western Conference playoff race than the East? Consider that as of Friday, eight points separated fourth-place Nashville from 13th-place Columbus. In the East, the gap between fourth-place Philadelphia and 13th place Toronto was 21 points.

That's one reason a chance to beat a banged-up team like the Islanders is so vital for the Avs.

"The Western Conference is a tough conference, and we have to make sure we don't give away points," captain Adam Foote told the team's website. "This team coming in tomorrow, New York, they're playing better and we can't take them lightly."

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