The Colorado Avalanche have followed a lengthy winning streak with an equally long losing streak thanks in part to an inability to start strong.
The Nashville Predators have been plagued by a similar problem.
In a matchup between teams hoping to end their first-period woes, the Avalanche look to avoid their longest losing streak in more than a decade as they host the Predators on Saturday night.
After dropping its first three games, Colorado (5-8-0) rebounded with five consecutive victories to calm concerns about its early struggles. The Avalanche, though, appear to be in trouble again after losing their last five games by a combined 21-8.
They’ve matched their worst losing streak from all of last season, and now look to avoid their longest since dropping six in a row from March 30-April 11, 1998.
The Avs have given up five first-period goals during the current skid, and 13 in 13 games overall this season. Colorado has led in the opening period in only one of its last eight games, and fell behind 2-0 just 7:44 into a 3-1 loss to Minnesota on Thursday night.
The Avalanche outshot the Wild 36-20, including a 14-4 advantage in the third period, but couldn’t overcome the early deficit.
“We outshot them 35-12 the last 50 minutes of the game,” Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. “But if you’re not ready for the first 10 and they’re able to jump on you, everybody knows what kind of team that is when they have the lead.”
Darcy Tucker, who scored Colorado’s goal with 7:42 left in the second period, was also lamenting the slow start.
“A better start to the hockey game would give us the opportunity to maybe only to be down a goal,” he said. “Then when we do start playing the way we did in the second and third periods we would be right there.”
The Predators (6-6-1) can relate after falling behind 4-0 in the first period of their 7-6 loss to Calgary on Thursday night.
“It really did start off on the wrong foot for us,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team has given up 15 first-period goals, one of the highest marks in the league. “Everything that could happen to us in the first period happened, everything went in the net, which dug us a big hole and we just tried to battle back.”
The Predators almost pulled off the improbable comeback before the rally fell short when Ryan Suter’s 30-foot backhander in the final seconds was kicked aside.
“I’m proud of our team. We didn’t just let it go, we battled for 60 minutes and almost came back,” right winger Martin Erat said. “We’ve just got to play better defense because we know we can score goals.”
Nashville has allowed 11 total goals in consecutive losses and ranks near the bottom of the league by giving up 3.69 per game on the season. Its defensive struggles could continue if Colorado gets captain Joe Sakic back Saturday.
The veteran forward, third on the team with 12 points, was scratched from Thursday’s lineup because of a lower back injury, but Granato said he’s improving.
“I’d say there’s a pretty good chance he’ll play,” Granato told the team’s official Web site. “If he feels like he does this morning and there’s no setbacks, I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Sakic, limited to a career-low 44 games last season because of hernia surgery, didn’t record a point in his one game against Nashville. The Avalanche and Predators split the four-game series.
Colorado goalie Peter Budaj is 4-2-0 with a 2.62 goals-against average in six career games against Nashville, while Predators goalie Dan Ellis delivered a shutout in his only career game against the Avalanche on Jan. 22.