-- Joe Sacco will learn Monday night if his grueling practice Sunday has the positive carry-over effect he is hoping for.
The Colorado Avalanche
coach, whose team has been outscored 11-3 during a two-game losing streak, put his players through a nearly 90-minute session that included battling for pucks in the corners, along with sprints between the blue lines.
The Avalanche has fallen into ninth place in the Western Conference and has two games remaining before the NHL All-Star break, starting with Monday's contest against the St. Louis Blues
at the Pepsi Center.
"Basically my job is to make sure that preparation-wise we are where we need to be, that our focus is where it needs to be," Sacco said following Monday's morning practice. "For me, it started with practice (Sunday). I just thought that we needed a good, hard, crisp practice. There was a lot of battle drills involved. I thought that hopefully that would carry over to the game tonight."
"Basically my job is to make sure that preparation-wise we are where we need to be, that our focus is where it needs to be. For me, it started with practice (Sunday). I just thought that we needed a good, hard, crisp practice. There was a lot of battle drills involved. I thought that hopefully that would carry over to the game tonight." -- Joe Sacco
The Avalanche have outscored the Blues 27-11 while winning five consecutive meetings, most recently a 6-3 victory Nov. 15 when goalie Peter Budaj
made 27 saves.
Budaj will start Monday. He relieved Craig Anderson
to begin the third period of Saturday's 6-2 loss to Boston and stopped 10 of 11 shots.
Forward Brandon Yip
, who was a healthy scratch in three of the past four games, will replace Kevin Porter
in the lineup. Porter was a minus-4 in 10:13 of ice time Saturday and has 2 goals and 1 assist in the past 15 games.
"The last couple of games we've been outplayed," Sacco said. "To me, the team that works the hardest most nights, the team that wants the puck most nights, that's the team that’s going to win most nights. For us, it's about work ethic and getting back to our identity. I think we can all agree that we can all be better.
"That'll be the challenge, to get back on track. We have two games leading up to the All-Star break and we want to feel good about ourselves going to the break. Two wins and you're right back into possibly being in fifth place in the conference like we were a couple of days ago."
The Avalanche have gone 5-8-2 -- 3-6-2 at home -- since rattling off six consecutive wins from Dec. 10-19. In its last 15 games, Colorado has been held to two goals or fewer eight times, was shut out three times, and allowed four or more goals on seven occasions.
"Lately we haven't been playing well and it's kind of human nature to be a little negative, but we can't do that," right wing Milan Hejduk
said. "We have to stay positive and we have to have a positive start. I feel lately we've played pretty tight hockey. Things are not going well for us and we have had sort of a deer-in-the-headlights look. We have to start skating and play a little bit loose, be in the attack mode and spend more time in their zone and play our game there, where we are strong."
Center Paul Stastny
said he doesn't spend a lot of time checking the standings in the tightly-bunched West, but said he is aware of the Avalanche's position.
"I don't pay too much attention," he said. "I think the minute you start looking at who you are trying to catch, that's when you get in trouble. You just have to worry about what you can do, and we have to compete harder."
Forsberg skates again
-- Peter Forsberg
, who is attempting to earn a contract with the Avalanche, took part in the morning skate but wasn't available for interviews because it is a game day. He is scheduled to practice again with the team Tuesday.
"He looks really good to me," Hejduk said. "Guys can watch him in the practices and see the kind of player he is. When he's in the lineup, more people come into the building and it's fun to watch him. He definitely would help our team."
Singing the Blues
-- The Blues are struggling, too. They have lost two games in a row and have been outscored 37-27 during a 2-6-2 slump since winning five games in a row from Dec. 21-31.
The Blues have gone 13-17-5 since beginning the season 9-1-2 roll and start the week 11th in the West, three points behind the Avalanche and four behind eighth-place San Jose.
The Blues recalled defenseman Nikita Nikitin
and forward Stefan Della Rovere
from Peoria in the American Hockey League and assigned defenseman Ian Cole
and forward Ryan Reaves
to the AHL team.
Nikitin had no points and a minus-7 rating in 13 previous games with the Blues, while Della Rovere had no points and nine penalty minutes in an earlier five-game stint.
Cole had no points, a minus-2 rating and 23 penalty minutes in 13 games with St. Louis. Reaves had 2 goals and 26 penalty minutes in eight games.