Kings-Avalanche Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 22, 2012
The Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings are sputtering in the Western Conference playoff race. The Avalanche have made the first move to begin trying to change that, and another meeting with the Kings may prove beneficial. With Steve Downie expected to make his team debut, the Avalanche look to complete their first season sweep of Los Angeles in 19 years Wednesday night at Pepsi Center. Colorado (29-27-4) is 11th in the West, four points back of the Kings (27-21-12) for the eighth and final postseason position. Both clubs, however, are enduring rough stretches to improve their respective positions. The Avalanche are 3-6-2 since a 3-1 victory at Los Angeles on Jan. 21. The Kings followed that meeting with a pair of victories, but then went on to drop seven of the next nine (2-5-2) after blowing a three-goal, first-period lead to fall 5-4 in a shootout at Phoenix on Tuesday. Colorado, though, feels it's made a move to improve its postseason chances, acquiring Downie from Tampa Bay in a deal that sent defenseman Kyle Quincey to Detroit. Downie had 12 goals and 16 assists while compiling a minus-15 rating for the Lightning. The right wing is also known for his toughness, collecting 500 penalty minutes over the past three seasons to rank second to only Ottawa's Zenon Konopka (740) in that span. "Our organization believes that Steve Downie will add grit and skill to our lineup offensively," general manager Greg Sherman said in a statement. "He plays the game with an edge, and we look forward to seeing the immediate and future impact he can bring to our team." Colorado is returning home after enduring a 1-2-1 road trip, capped by Sunday's 5-1 loss at Winnipeg. "It's a big loss this time of the year," said center Matt Duchene, who didn't get a point in his return to the lineup after missing 20 games because of a knee injury. Having Duchene continue to move past his injury may also provide a spark. He has 12 goals and 12 assists after setting career highs with 27 and 40, respectively, last season. Duchene scored the eventual winner early in the third period of a 3-2 victory over the Kings in Denver on Oct. 30. Colorado has won both meetings since, putting the club on the brink of sweeping the season series for the first time since it won both matchups in 1992-93 as the Quebec Nordiques. Los Angeles is trying to avoid a four-game slide for the first time since a season-high five-game skid from Dec. 3-13. Re-establishing its success on the penalty kill could go a long way in doing that. The Kings allowed the Coyotes to go 3 for 7 with the man-advantage Tuesday after giving up one power-play goal over the previous nine games. Despite those struggles, Los Angeles ranks among the best in the NHL at killing penalties with an 86.5 percent success rate. "If you give up three power-play goals on the road, you're going to have a tough time winning," coach Darryl Sutter said. Dustin Brown is looking to build on his two points from Tuesday, matching his total from his previous 10 contests since the most recent meeting with Colorado. The right wing's 14 goals this season after a far cry from his team-leading 28 tallies from 2010-11. However, he has five goals and five assists in his last six visits to Pepsi Center, including an assist Oct. 30.
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