NHL Hockey

Skidding Avs visit red-hot Islanders

The Colorado Avalanche are coming off their fifth straight loss, this time to the defending champion Washington Capitals on Thursday. Now they get to face the man who led Washington to the elusive Stanley Cup last year when they visit the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon.

Barry Trotz stunned some when three days after the Capitals beat the Vegas Golden Knights to win the title he was hired by the Islanders to be their head coach. It looks like New York made a shrewd move. The Islanders (31-16-6) sit atop the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of Washington and winners of seven of their last 10.

New York is steamrolling to a top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference even though former No. 1 overall pick John Tavares signed with Toronto in the offseason. The Islanders have done just fine despite not having a player with more than 18 goals this season. They do have eight players with 11 or more goals and two netminders who, combined, lead the NHL in goals-against average at 2.34 per game.

The balanced scoring and strong defense have put New York in position for a deep playoff run. The Islanders are also getting healthier. Forward Andrew Ladd and defenseman Thomas Hickey are back practicing and getting closer to returning.

Ladd has been out since Nov. 15 with a lower-body injury and Hickey has missed two months with an upper-body injury. Trotz told Newsday Hickey is closer to returning.

"The biggest thing is I want to get back where I can contribute," Hickey told Newsday on Thursday. "As far as wondering, it's a waste of time trying to make decisions that aren't made yet."

Neither will play when the Islanders host a hurting Avalanche team in a Saturday matinee game. Colorado's pain isn't as much physical as mental. The Avalanche (22-22-9) have lost five in a row, have gone 5-15-4 since Dec. 6 and have plummeted in the Western Conference standings. Colorado is two points out of the second wild card.

The decline has been frustrating for a team that was flying through the first 30 games. Things have been so tough that earning a point in Washington on Thursday was cause for optimism. The Avalanche overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime but then allowed a goal with 48 seconds left in the extra period.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the game it was "a big point," but even that was tempered with the fact that Colorado is now 1-9 in games decided after regulation. Eight of those losses have come in overtime.

"Again the OT, I don't know what's wrong with us," Mikko Rantanen, who scored his 24th goal of the season, said after the game. "Always we give up one breakaway and usually it's in the back of the net. I don't know. It's tough to say right after the loss what's the problem."

Poor goaltending is one culprit. Colorado's top netminders are former Capitals and neither has been impressive this season. The Avalanche have a 3.32 goals-against average, 28th in the NHL, and have allowed 24 goals in the last five games.

Despite the issues Colorado is still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with 29 games left.

"We've certainly been addressing some of the negatives in our game and the things we have to improve on and we'll do it again, but there's also a lot of good," coach Jared Bednar said after the game. "We've got to build."

--Field Level Media

Updated February 8, 2019

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