Coyotes-Avalanche Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche are eager to get back on the ice after the club's longest home winning streak was snapped last time out.

Getting back on track could be difficult considering the way things have gone lately against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Hoping to bounce back from their first defeat at the Pepsi Center in a month, the Avalanche try to avoid losing to the Coyotes for a seventh time in eight games on Thursday night.

One night after ending a nine-game road losing streak with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota on Monday, Colorado (19-18-1) couldn't extend its eight-game home winning streak, falling to Winnipeg 4-1.

Kevin Porter scored at 14:48 of the third period to prevent a shutout for the Avalanche, who suffered their first setback at the Pepsi Center since a 3-1 loss to Dallas on Nov. 28. That was the Avs' longest home winning streak since the franchise relocated from Quebec in 1995.

"It's still a nice feather in the cap for a young team,'' coach Joe Sacco said of the streak. "We still feel like we're playing well. We're a good hockey team and we'll regroup and get ready for our next opponent.''

Colorado, which also had a season-high tying five-game winning streak end, hasn't had much luck lately against Phoenix (18-15-4). The Avs lost at home to the Coyotes 4-1 on Nov. 2, their sixth defeat in the last seven meetings.

They've also been outscored 11-3 in losing the last three in Denver.

Perhaps Colorado's biggest problem against Phoenix has been a lack of production from its top two goal scorers. Matt Duchene, who has a team-high 12 goals, has scored once in the last seven meetings, while Paul Stastny, second on the team with 11, has gone nine straight games against the Coyotes without one.

Colorado could have the edge Thursday, though, as Phoenix will be playing the second game of a back-to-back and is without goaltender Mike Smith.

Smith stymied Colorado in the first meeting, stopping 39 shots to improve to 2-0-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average in three career starts against the Avs. The Coyotes, however, placed Smith on injured reserve with a strained groin on Monday.

Smith's replacement, Jason LaBarbera, is coming off his best performance since taking over for the injured Smith, but it wasn't enough to get the win.

LaBarbera stopped 27 shots Wednesday against Boston before allowing Dennis Seidenberg's goal 58 seconds into overtime in a 2-1 loss, Phoenix's third straight defeat. LaBarbera was 1-2-0 with a 3.60 GAA in starting the previous three games for the Coyotes.

"We did many good things against a very good hockey team,'' Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "It was unfortunate we didn't get the two points. I like the energy of our team."

Colorado's Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal Thursday after Jean-Sebastien Giguere got the nod against the Jets. Varlamov stopped 20 shots Monday, his first game since Dec. 15.

He made 24 saves against the Coyotes in November.

Radim Vrbata, Phoenix's leader with 16 goals, scored twice in the first meeting of the season. Vrbata has four goals in his last three games versus the Avs, but hasn't produced a point in four consecutive contests.

Ray Whitney, who scored his 13th goal Wednesday, has a goal and five assists in his last three games against Colorado.

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