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Jackets look to end scoring slump against Avalanche

by Brian Hunter
AVALANCHE (23-13-6) at BLUE JACKETS (15-18-9)

Last 10:
Colorado 6-4-0; Columbus 1-6-3

Season Series: Third of four meetings this season. The Avalanche beat the Blue Jackets twice in December. Peter Budaj made 29 saves and assisted on a goal in a 3-2 win in Columbus on Dec. 5, and Wojtek Wolski scored twice in the first five minutes of a 5-2 victory in Colorado two weeks later.

Big Story:
The race for first place in the Northwest Division has tightened up, as the Avalanche begin play Saturday leading the Flames by a single point and the surging Canucks by three points. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, boast just one win in their last 12 games and are one point behind the Blues for fourth in the Central.

Team Scope:

Bidding to defeat Detroit for the second time this season at Joe Louis Arena, Colorado rallied from a two-goal deficit Saturday on a pair of power-play goals by Brandon Yip. However, the Wings got the go-ahead score from Ville Leino with 3:52 remaining and Darren Helm scored his second shorthanded goal of the game into an empty net as the Avalanche fell, 4-2.

"Down two goals, we did a pretty good job to battle and come back," coach Joe Sacco said. "Just too bad we couldn't get a point out of it."

Blue Jackets:
There should be reason for optimism in Columbus despite what turned out to be a horrendous month of December. The Jackets are 1-1-2 in their last four games and have not given up more than two goals in any of them. Unfortunately, at the same time their defense and goaltending has started to step up, the offense has suddenly gone cold. They've scored just a single goal in five straight games and seven of their past nine. They didn't score more than three goals in a game the entire month.

"We've got to start finishing," forward Raffi Torres told the Columbus Dispatch. "There's really nothing else to say about it. Obviously, we can't keep living on one or two goals per game. It's not enough."

Who's Hot:
Yip, who has played just six NHL games, now has three goals and an assist in the last four games for Colorado. Another rookie, Matt Duchene, has two goals and six assists in his last seven games. … Columbus goaltenders Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon have combined to stop 110 of the last 115 shots they've faced, a 957 save percentage.

Injury Report:
Forward David Jones (torn left ACL) and defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) are on injured reserve for the Avalanche. … Defensemen Rostislav Klesla (groin) and Marc Methot (shoulder) and forward Derek Dorsett (broken hand) are on injured reserve for the Blue Jackets.

Stat Pack:
Colorado's win in Columbus on Dec. 5 started a four-game road win streak for the Avalanche that was snapped Thursday by the Red Wings. Colorado is 12-8-4 on the road this season, while Columbus is 9-6-5 at Nationwide Arena.

Puck Drop:
Torres had the lone goal for the Blue Jackets on Thursday -- it was his first in 10 games. Captain Rick Nash has scored just once in seven games. Jakub Voracek is mired in a nine-game goal drought. Coach Ken Hitchcock said it simply can't continue this way if the team is to turn around its fortunes.

"Nothing's going to change until we get more production out of our top-six forwards," Hitchcock said. "We need our top players to be more involved. It's that simple."

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