NHL Hockey

Avalanche aim to stop slide in home matchup vs. Maple Leafs

The Colorado Avalanche came through a tough road trip with hope intact and still alive for a playoff berth. But if they thought things would get any easier coming home they are mistaken.

After earning three of a possible six points against a string of top Eastern Conference teams, the Avalanche play host to another one. The Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of four of their last five games, steamroll into town on Tuesday night. Toronto (34-18-3) is coming off a 4-1 loss at the New York Rangers on Sunday and a power play that is struggling.

The Maple Leafs (34-18-3) have scored one goal on their last 18 chances on the power play and couldn't get one in four opportunities against New York despite putting 23 shots on goaltender Alexander Georgiev. The puck movement and shots were positives, but the lack of finishing is a source of frustration.

"We have five really good players and Jim (Hiller, assistant coach) does a really good job with the scheme, but right now we're pressing," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said Sunday. "We're not executing, not on faceoffs, not on breakouts, not in the zones.

"It didn't score, but it would be pretty hard to look at that power play and say it wasn't good. The guys understand they had good looks and good opportunities. On the other side, sometimes the goalie steals one, but that doesn't make you feel any better."

Scoring on the power play is just one of Colorado's issues. The Avalanche (22-22-11) haven't been able to finish games at all. They took Washington, the New York Islanders and Boston to overtime the last three games and couldn't earn the extra point. They are 1-11 in games decided after regulation, with only one of them coming in a shootout. Sunday's loss came on a goal that went off forward Matt Calvert's skate with a minute left in overtime.

"This is kind of the luck we've been having with it," coach Jared Bednar said. "We're working on it, we're watching video on it, guys are paying attention to what we're saying and defending hard 3-on-3."

The bright spot is goaltender Semyon Varlamov has played better the last few games. He made some big saves to help Colorado earn points in three straight games. He has a 91.5 save percentage after posting an 88 percent save percentage in his previous five games. He was strong in overtime on Sunday before the Bruins' fortunate bounce.

"It's just not good enough," Varlamov said after the game. "We've got to find a way to win in overtime."

The Avalanche have to find a way to win in regulation, too. They are 5-15-6 since early December but one of those was a 6-3 win at Toronto on Jan. 14. Colorado scored three goals in the second and third periods of that win but have gone lost eight of nine since.

If the Avalanche are going to make a serious run at the postseason, they'll have to win games like this one. It won't be easy. Toronto is playing well and looking to even the season series and stay close to Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 11, 2019

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