The Colorado Avalanche were in perfect position to go into their bye week riding an eight-game winning streak before a new outlook developed.
After a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, Colorado is hoping to avoid a two-game skid ahead of a nine-day break.
The Avalanche, who host the St. Louis Blues in an afternoon game on Saturday in Denver, will try to erase the bad taste of blowing a two-goal lead against the lowly Ducks.
Colorado had been rolling until Thursday, winning six straight, but there were warning signs of pending trouble in a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. The Avalanche were outplayed for long stretches before they escaped with the win.
When Colorado let up Thursday, the Ducks didn't let the defending champs off the hook. Anaheim dominated the third period and left Colorado coach Jared Bednar miffed.
"I don't like getting outworked for stretches that cost you hockey games," Bednar said. "And that's what it was. Let's call it what it is. The intensity that they came out with in the start of the third period, and what we had, was not comparable. It doesn't surprise you that you let the game slip away. And we're too deep in the season now for that to happen."
The loss also spoiled two returns. Defenseman Cale Makar was back after missing four games with an upper-body injury, and Matt Nieto donned an Avalanche uniform for the first time in four years after he was acquired from the San Jose Sharks.
Nieto adds a grinder presence that was absent with Darren Helm out -- possibly for the season. Colorado also hopes forward Val Nichushkin can return Saturday after missing Thursday's game with an upper-body injury.
The Avalanche could be getting more players back, but likely not for Saturday. Defensemen Josh Manson and Bowen Byram were practicing with the team Friday afternoon, but Bednar has indicated that both are candidates to be back in the lineup after the team returns from the break.
St. Louis has its own issues to work through. The Blues have dropped three straight, including a 5-0 loss at Arizona on Thursday.
St. Louis also is dealing with injuries. Captain Ryan O'Reilly has been out for a month with a broken foot and Pavel Buchnevich was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday with an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined until after the All-Star break.
St. Louis missed an opportunity to gain points with the three losses -- two of those at home.
"Those are three teams where, if you look at the schedule, and with all due respect to every team -- anybody can beat anyone -- those are the games that you have to play better in and get points," the Blues' Brayden Schenn said. "To come away with zero points it's obviously tough, and now you find yourself digging a hole again."
The Blues and Colorado have split the first two games of their four-game season series, with each winning on the road. The Avalanche won the most recent matchup, 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 11, when Mikko Rantanen notched his fifth career hat trick.
--Field Level Media
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