Losing ground: Avalanche looking to break out of recent funk

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By Pat Graham (AP Sports Writer)

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche could point to obvious flaws for their prolonged plunge: Erratic goaltenders, floundering special teams, inconsistent scoring from players not on their top line .

Or just go with the more direct one.

”We just haven’t played good enough,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said.

The Avalanche were tied for the most points in the Western Conference after games on Dec. 7. Two months and a 5-15-6 record later, they’re trying to get on track and climb back into playoff contention. It’s been a perplexing freefall for an Avalanche team that hasn’t won since Jan. 19.

”Everybody’s kind of taking their individual games down a couple of notches,” said Landeskog, whose team hosts Toronto on Tuesday looking to break a seven-game slide (0-4-3). ”That adds up to the team not desperate enough, not hungry enough, not fast enough, not physical enough.”

The silver lining to this grisly stretch: Colorado (22-22-11, 55 points) still sat just four points out of a playoff spot entering Monday. Any other year, the deficit probably would be even greater.

”We’re lucky,” center Nathan MacKinnon said. ”We’re lucky the West is bad this year. If we were in the East, we’d be (eight) points out. So, we’re lucky everyone’s kind of lost separately. It’s been weird. We had a great start. We were first in our division and we’ve been just losing ever since, so we’re lucky. It feels like we’re 30 points out, but we’re only (four) and we need to remind ourselves of that.”

Colorado finished a three-game trip with three straight overtime losses . Those are a valuable three points earned in defeat, but the team desperately needs wins.

”It’s been two months we’ve been losing, so if we don’t get wins we’re not happy,” said MacKinnon, whose team dropped to 1-11 in OT games this season. ”We need wins. That’s all that really matters.”

General manager Joe Sakic recently gave the reeling team a vote of confidence. Playoffs are still firmly on his mind.

”I believe in the guys in that dressing room, that we can right the ship,” Sakic said. ”I know they believe it. Right now, the confidence is a little low.”

Colorado’s role at the trade deadline on Feb. 25 could be decided over the next few games. Once potential buyers – or comfortable making no moves – the team could become sellers. One thing Sakic won’t do is mortgage the future. He said the two first-round picks are off limits, along with some of their prized prospects.

”For us, it’s got to make sense going forward,” Sakic said of a deal.

The recent struggles in net have plagued Colorado. Semyon Varlamov is 13-13-8 with a 2.91 goals-against average. Backup Philipp Grubauer hasn’t been any more steady, going 9-7-3 with a 3.47 goals-against.

”Got to get them playing with a little more confidence,” Sakic said.

The power play of late has been problematic, too. Since Dec. 8, they’re last in the league in penalty kill percentage and 21st in converting power play chances.

Colorado also is looking for more secondary scoring to help out the top line of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, which has combined for 206 points.

”Obviously, everything is magnified when you lose,” MacKinnon said. ”When you win, those mistakes kind of get covered up and you don’t really see them in video or things like that. So, it’s been tough. Obviously, a lot of negativity, but we’ve played some decent games.”

Sakic remains firmly in the corner of coach Jared Bednar, who led the Avalanche back to the postseason a year ago – he was a coach of the year finalist – after going 22-56-4 in his first season.

”The problem is not coaching at all,” Sakic said. ”We have good systems.”

The skid hasn’t soured the locker room, MacKinnon said

”Some losing teams kind of turn on each other, but everyone has each other’s backs and we’re trying to win with each other,” MacKinnon said. ”We know (with) losing comes changes and we don’t want to change our team. So, the mood is still pretty good.

”I think that’s the only way to get out of it. If you hang your head and be negative, I think you’re just kind of doomed from there. So we’re still positive.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

“Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

“That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

“You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

UP NEXT

Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.