Canucks-Avalanche Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 24, 2013
The Vancouver Canucks continue to keep pace at the top of the Northwest Division, and lately they've had their goalie to thank. Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche have been plagued by poor goaltending and continue to struggle at the bottom of the division. Vancouver will look to continue its good fortunes and its dominance of the Avalanche on Sunday night in Denver. The Canucks are 16-0-2 in their last 18 meetings with the Avalanche, outscoring them 66-29 during that stretch and shutting them out five times, including a 3-0 home win on Jan. 30. Vancouver (16-9-6) won its third straight and fifth in seven games after a 1-0 victory at Los Angeles on Saturday helped it stay tied with Minnesota for first in the Northwest. Stellar goaltending from Cory Schneider has helped key the team's win streak, with Saturday marking his sixth career shutout. Schneider hasn't been officially announced as the starter for Sunday but would figure to be a solid option since he has recorded shutouts in two of his last three starts against the Avalanche. He's stopped 85 of 88 shots over Vancouver's last three contests, improving to 8-5-3 this season. "It's nice to have consecutive efforts in a row like that. When you have a good one and then a bad one, it's a little frustrating," Schneider said. "You can't sit on that and pat yourself on the back. You have to keep doing it, and that's the challenge of playing a lot of games." Colorado's hopes for its first playoff appearance since 2010 are quickly dimming as the club sits last in the conference, seven points out of a playoff spot with 18 games remaining. The deficit seems even deeper considering the goaltending the Avalanche (11-15-4) have recently received. They've dropped five of six after a 5-2 loss at Dallas on Saturday - the fourth time in five games they've yielded five or more goals. Semyon Varlamov has started each of those games, posting an .866 save percentage and getting pulled twice - including Saturday after he allowed four goals on 15 shots. The Avalanche have also developed a bad habit of slow starts. After falling behind 2-0 in the first period on Saturday, Colorado has been outscored 36-19 in the first 20 minutes of games. "We're getting scored on way too early and way too much right now," Matt Duchene said. "We're playing catch-up all game long. We haven't played with the lead in God knows how long and it's frustrating, that's for sure. We can't afford to put ourselves behind the eight-ball every game." Making matters worse, Colorado's offense may be shorthanded going forward as captain Gabriel Landeskog was a late scratch for Saturday's game due to a torso injury. Landeskog, considered day-to-day, had already missed 11 games this year with head and leg injuries but had scored goals in a personal-best four straight games. Vancouver's recent success has had nothing to do with its power play, which continues to be anemic. The Canucks have scored one goal on 43 chances over their last 15 games, with the last goal coming Monday in a 3-1 loss to Minnesota. Before that, the last power-play goal was Feb. 21 in a 4-3 win at Dallas. Defenseman Alex Edler will serve the second of his two-game suspension he received after charging Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith behind the net in Thursday's 2-1 win at Phoenix.
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