Reeling Avalanche look to stop slide vs. Canucks (Jan 25, 2017)
The Colorado Avalanche surprised the NHL three years ago by soaring to the top of the Central Division and winning a franchise high-tying 52 games. With a young core in place, the future seemed bright for the team.
That successful season is now an official anomaly. The Avalanche (13-30-2) have the fewest points in the NHL and rumors surround the possibility of breaking up the once-promising core.
Speculation was fueled by Matt Duchene's absence for Monday's loss to San Jose, which the team said was due to sickness.
No trade happened and Duchene, the team's leading goal scorer, is questionable for the game against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night. He didn't practice Tuesday.
The Avalanche will be without defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Rene Bourque, who were both placed on injured reserve with lower-body injuries. Colorado recalled center Jim O'Brien from San Antonio of the American Hockey League. He likely will play against Vancouver.
The matchup features teams playing to their weaknesses -- Colorado at home and the Canucks on the road.
The Avalanche are 5-17-1 at Pepsi Center and have lost 14 of their last 15 games there. Vancouver, meanwhile, is 5-14-3 on the road but is in playoff contention despite that mark. Something will give when the teams play.
"There shouldn't be a difference playing on the road than at home," captain Henrik Sedin told The Vancouver Sun after Sunday's loss in Chicago. "It should be easier to be in these (road) games and I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't turn it around with the way we've been playing lately."
The Canucks should have defenseman Alex Edler available for Wednesday's game. Edler appeared to hurt his hand or wrist Sunday and was scheduled to be evaluated Monday, but was expected to be available against the reeling Avalanche.
Colorado has lost six straight and is 2-15-1 in its past 18 games. The Avalanche are on pace to have the most losses since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-2000. With 37 games left, Colorado is all but eliminated from playoff contention barring a miraculous finish.
"I've been out of the playoffs many times, but a lot of those years it (came down to) the last week," forward Jarome Iginla told HockeyBuzz.com. "This one, it's a pretty far stretch to get back into it at this point -- it's a lot of points. We can't look at that big picture. Every year there's a team that is like that, and unfortunately we're having that tough go so far."
Colorado's collapse was unexpected.
"I'm surprised for sure," Canucks forward and former Avalanche member Jack Skille told The Vancouver Sun. "When you look at them on paper, they're a good team and have the ability to be a threat and a dangerous team to play against. But you never know what's going on. It's got to be tough to come into the room every day. I know that group of guys and they're trying to win."
The Canucks (22-20-6) aren't going to feel sorry for the Avalanche, not when they're trying to reverse their road misfortunes and climb in the Western Conference standings. They have lost four straight and eight of nine away from Vancouver but is within a point of the second wild card slot in the Western Conference.
A win against the Avalanche and they move ahead of Calgary.
Vancouver will face a Colorado team not only hurting in the standings but on the ice, too. The Avalanche were down to just 11 forwards in the 5-2 loss to San Jose on Monday after Duchene was a late scratch.
"Injuries don't make it easier on us but we've got players who can step up," coach Jared Bednar said after Tuesday's practice.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov won't play until after the All-Star break, which begins for Colorado following Wednesday's game. Calvin Pickard will start in goal for the Avalanche.
Vancouver has one more game -- Thursday in Arizona -- before the All-Star break. A win in Denver will give the Canucks some momentum and a chance to be sitting in a playoff spot heading into the weekend.