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Isles pay rare visit to Colorado

by John Kreiser

ISLANDERS (17-18-8) at AVALANCHE (24-13-6)

Last 10 -- New York 5-4-1, Colorado 7-3-0

Season series -- Talk about teams that rarely see each other: This is their only meeting in 2009-10, and they haven't met more than once in a season since splitting two games in 2001-02. The Islanders won the only meeting last season, 4-2 at the Nassau Coliseum on March 2, but are just 1-6-1-1 since the Avs' franchise moved from Quebec to Colorado in 1995. Their last visit as a 2-1 OT loss two years ago.

Big story -- Isles center John Tavares, the top pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, and Colorado center Matt Duchene, who was taken No. 3, will meet for the first time as pros.

"During the draft and the NHL combine we roomed together," Duchene told the Avs' Web site. "We spent a lot of time together during that process, doing a lot of interviews and other things. We became pretty good friends and it was good to get to know him."

Tavares started quickly while Duchene took a while to get used to the NHL, but lately the roles have switched: Duchene, named NHL Rookie of the Month for December, has 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points, one behind Tavares, including 8 goals and 9 assists in his last 18 games. Tavares has just 1 goal in his last 11 games.

Team scope:

Islanders -- The Islanders are taking three goaltenders on their three-game swing through Colorado, Dallas and Phoenix -- and there's a good possibility that Rick DiPietro, who hasn't played an NHL game in more than a year due to a knee injury that required surgery and extensive rehab, could be in goal for one of them.

Coach Scott Gordon reportedly was mum on the subject, saying "Maybe" when asked if the Isles' franchise goaltender might see some action on the trip.

DiPietro played AHL games Friday and Sunday, then surprised Gordon by practicing for nearly two hours on Monday.

While Dwayne Roloson has played well in his absence this season and is expected to start in Denver, seeing "DP" back on the ice figures to be a big boost for the Isles.

Avalanche -- The Avs were one of the NHL's biggest stories during the first half of the season. After finishing 28th overall and last in the West in 2008-09, they got off to a fast start and have built on it. Colorado leads the Northwest Division and has 54 points after 43 games -- just 15 fewer than the Avs managed all last season.

But rookie center Ryan O'Reilly knows the Avs need to improve their play -- they've won three in a row despite a lot of shaky moments.

"(Letting teams) right back into it has been a tendency for us lately, but we are young and we have the leadership and we're changing that," he said. "In order for us to be successful down the road, that's something we have to do."

Who's hot -- Isles center Josh Bailey has 3 points in his last two games. Roloson is 3-0-1 in his last four starts. … Duchene has 1 goal and 3 assists in his last four games. Forward Chris Stewart has a career-best 12 goals, including three in his last four games.

Injury report -- The Islanders might get forward Sean Bergenheim (ribs) and center Nate Thompson (shoulder) back for this game; they are still without forward Tim Jackman, who's expected to miss another three weeks or so with an eye injury. … The Avs say defenseman Brett Clark, who took a puck in the face last Wednesday, won't be available despite practicing Tuesday while wearing a full face shield. He played Thursday but sat out Saturday.

Stat pack -- The Islanders have gone past regulation 16 times this season, going 8-8. They 've played shootouts in each of their last three, winning two. … The Avs are 11 games over .500 despite being outshot on a nightly basis: They've averaging 26.0 shots while allowing 32.3. The 6.3 differential is the highest of any team in the League. … Colorado is 8-2-1 against Eastern Conference teams this season; the Isles are 2-4-0 against the West. The Avs scored nine goals in their recent three-game trip; only rookie Brandon Yip had more than one.

Puck drop -- Two of the NHL's three worst teams last season have improved markedly from their poor showings in 2008-09. Both allow a lot of shots, so don't be surprised if there are more than a few goals scored.

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