Avs look for change in New Year vs. Canucks (Jan 02, 2017)

BY AP • January 1, 2017

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- For a change, the Vancouver Canucks have fewer worries than their next opponent.

These days, the Colorado Avalanche (12-23-1) are making headlines for only the wrong reasons. Heading into Monday's contest against the Canucks at Rogers Arena, the Avs have only two wins in their last 10 games, and lost a whopping 10 straight at home.

"I mean, 10 straight at home, that's embarrassing -- that's flat-out embarrassing," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog told reporters in Denver. "That isn't the way anyone wants to play at home. We talk about it all the time. You want to be a dominant home team and, obviously, the end of 2016 at home and on the road hasn't been good enough.

"We have to start fresh and that starts on Monday in Vancouver."

In other words, the Avs, who have lost three straight games overall, hope that the Canucks can provide just the tonic that they are looking for. Colorado's New Year's resolutions appear simple: Play with more confidence and consistency, and cut down on silly mistakes.

"It seems like we find a way to lose differently every night," Matt Duchene told reporters in Denver.

"It just seems like there isn't much going our way and it's getting pretty crazy at this point," added goaltender Calvin Pickard.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who has called his team "a work in progress," wants players to show more mental toughness.

"You can see (a mental letdown) when the other team scores," Bednar told reporters. "We've talked about it. They get down and we try to pick them up. But still, half of that is part of our own mistakes. We're still making critical mistakes in a 2-2 hockey game."

The Avs are reeling after a 6-2 home loss to the New York Rangers on New Year's Eve. Sitting last in the 30-team National Hockey League, Colorado was outscored 24-9 in its past six games -- or almost three to one.

Injured No. 1 goaltender Semyen Varlamov can't return soon enough from a groin injury that has kept him out since Dec. 22. Although Bednar indicated before Christmas that Varlamov could return soon, he is not on the two-game road trip that ends in Calgary on Wednesday. Pickard is slated to make his fifth consecutive start Monday.

Jeremy Smith, 27, a career minor leaguer who has yet to play an NHL game, is serving as Colorado's backup goaltender for the time being after being promoted from San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

Usually, it's the Canucks who are battling to find consistency. But coach Willie Desjardins' crew won three straight games since the Christmas break. The Canucks are on their most successful stretch of the season since starting the campaign with four wins in a row.

Vancouver's latest triumph came Saturday night in a shootout win over the Oilers in Edmonton.

"We have got lots of confidence in the group right now," center Bo Horvat, who scored the shootout winner, told reporters in the Alberta capital. "It has been a long time since we have won three straight and a while since we have had a fairly healthy lineup. To get some guys back in on the back end and be rolling up front, it gives us lots of confidence."

Horvat himself has been extremely confident lately. In the three games since the Christmas break, he recorded a goal and four assists. At other times, he has made key plays that led to Vancouver goals without getting an assist while also standing out defensively and in the face-off circle.

As a result, the 21-year-old Horvat now leads Vancouver in points on the basis of 10 goals and 15 assists. He has overtaken Henrik and Daniel Sedin -- two former NHL scoring champions.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are also getting strong goaltending from both of their netminders. Jacob Markstrom, the nominal backup, posted 42 saves in Saturday's win over the Oilers, one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, while limiting teenage wunderkind Connor McDavid to just one late tally. Markstrom got the call to prevent starter Ryan Miller from playing in back-to-back games after the Canucks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout Friday in Vancouver.

In his two starts since the Christmas break, Miller only allowed three goals on 63 shots.

Miller's play is just one of many reasons why -- for a change, however fleeting -- the Canucks have fewer concerns than their next opponent.

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