By JON PALMIERI STATS Editor
Buffalo (15-30-8) at Colorado (34-14-5), 3:00 p.m. EDT
It will be nearly a month before the Colorado Avalanche play at home after Saturday.
They certainly will face the right opponent as they hope for a happy send-off.
The Avalanche seek a seventh consecutive win against the league-worst Buffalo Sabres in their final home game before the Olympic break.
January was a very good month for Colorado, which went 10-3-1 after struggling through a 5-5-4 December. The surge continued with a 5-4 victory over Minnesota on Thursday, putting the Avalanche nine points up on the fourth-place Wild in the Central Division as they try to end a three-year playoff drought.
Matt Duchene had a pair of assists and Nathan MacKinnon scored one goal and set up another to help Colorado (34-14-5) win for the third time in four games.
“It was a big game for us. We have three games in hand and we’re up (nine) points in the standings,” Duchene said. “That puts us well ahead and we just have to keep taking care of business.”
The Avalanche open a four-game road trip Monday in New Jersey and won’t play at home again until Los Angeles visits Feb. 26.
No opponent would be more welcome than the Sabres (15-30-8), who have lost seven of nine, even with Thursday’s 3-2 win at Phoenix. Buffalo is the NHL’s lowest-scoring team with 104 goals - 24 fewer than the next-closest Calgary.
Duchene had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win at Buffalo on Oct. 19. The Avalanche have won six straight meetings - three in a shootout and one in overtime - since a 6-4 loss Dec. 4, 2005.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy doesn’t want his team to look past the Sabres.
“It’s important for us to be ready against Buffalo. They just beat Phoenix, 3-2. There’s no easy win now in the NHL,” he told the team’s official website.
The biggest key behind Colorado’s strong play has been Semyon Varlamov, who is 11-1-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average in his last 13 starts. He made 31 saves Thursday, hours after finalizing a five-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 season.
“It was a big day for us. I’m sure it’s a great day for Varly as well,” Roy said. “He certainly deserved that contract. We’re very happy it’s a done deal.”
Varlamov is 3-0-1 with a 2.45 GAA lifetime against Buffalo. Backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere has lost his last four starts overall, posting a 4.79 GAA.
Whichever goalie is in net will be facing a weak offense that will be even worse with leading scorer Matt Moulson likely out through the break due to an upper-body injury.
“Right now, it’s going to be a big loss for us, but like every other team, someone has to step up,” interim coach Ted Nolan said. “There will be an opportunity for someone else.”
One of the players Nolan needs to step up is rookie center Zemgus Girgensons, who ended a 16-game goal drought with a short-handed score in the third period Thursday.
That was the Sabres’ third victory in five road games after an 0-9-2 slide away from home.
Avalanche center Paul Stastny is day to day with an ankle injury suffered Thursday, while the Sabres hope to get defenseman Christian Ehrhoff back after he sat out against Phoenix with an illness.