Stars host struggling Avalanche to start homestand (Dec 29, 2016)

BY AP • December 29, 2016

DALLAS -- The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars renew their Central Division rivalry Thursday night at American Airlines Center, but only one of these clubs is currently playing good hockey.

The Avalanche (12-21-1), who head into Wednesday's games leading the NHL with 112 goals allowed and have a league-worst minus-42 goal differential, continue to languish in the Central basement after a 6-3 loss to Calgary at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

The Avalanche, who are 8-9-0 on the road, got several bad bounces in that defeat, which makes them 3-7-0 in their last 10 contests, but first-year Colorado coach Jared Bednar knows that beside a lack of puck luck against the Flames, it was the continuing theme of several problem areas that helped doom their chances before a partisan crowd.

"As a staff, all we want is to see our players play the best way that they can, the way that they know how and play with the identity that got those players here," Bednar said after the Calgary loss. "Until we buy in and get committed to play the way we're going to play, we're just flipping a coin and losing more than 50 percent of the time because we're not buying into playing the right way all the time."

"We're just leaving games to chance and that's what happens when you don't do things the right way, you're not going to win."

With starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov still sidelined with a groin issue, backup netminder Calvin Pickard started a second consecutive game between the pipes for the Avalanche. Bednar said after practice on Wednesday in Colorado that Varlamov, who is 12-5-2 with a 2.94 goals-against-average in 19 career games against the Stars, was being further evaluated and that he would not travel to Dallas.

Pickard will start against the Stars, his third consecutive start for Colorado.

As for Dallas (15-14-7), it won 3-2 at Arizona on Tuesday, giving the Stars their first back-to-back wins since mid-November.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 35 of 37 shots in the win against the Coyotes while young defenseman John Klingberg scored the eventual game-winner after making a stellar defensive play earlier in the game.

Klingberg scored an empty-net goal with 1:08 remaining in regulation, ending a 23-game goal drought, this after he cleared a puck out of the crease in the first period, a puck which was about to cross the goal line.

Fourth-year Stars coach Lindy Ruff even mentioned Klingberg's first-period clearance in his postgame remarks to the press in Arizona.

"If we don't grab the puck in the crease, the empty netter isn't the game winner," Ruff said. "It just makes the game just a little bit tighter. I thought that our special teams killed a couple penalties, had a nice play on the power play to give us that goal."

Dallas, who is 6-2-1 in its last nine games on home ice, was without forwards Antoine Roussel (upper body) and Patrick sharp (concussion), but Jason Spezza who had a goal and has five points (three assists) in his past two games, more than picked up the offensive slack.

"Yeah, definitely it's a big win for us," Spezza said. "We have had a hard time winning two in a row, so that's something to build off. Now we head back home and have a couple home games."

The Stars, who are 10-5-3 at home and 4-1-1 over their past six games, will play their next three games on home ice.

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