|Ducks, Avalanche seek footing in West|
Nobody has been able to establish a comfortable lead in the two divisions that comprise the Western Conference, leaving struggling teams such as the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche well within striking distance if they can get a on a roll.
The Ducks and Avalanche will meet for the first time this season at Honda Center on Sunday evening, and each will be looking to bounce back from overtime losses on their home ice Friday night.
The Ducks (8-9-4) lost 2-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, dropping them to 3-8-3 in their past 14 games. They entered Saturday three points behind the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division, however.
The Avalanche (9-6-4) lost to the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals 3-2 on Friday, dropping them to 3-5-2 in their past 10 games. Still, the Avalanche entered Saturday five points behind the Nashville Predators for the Central Division lead.
Nashville stayed closer to the pack by losing three in a row earlier this week, including 2-1 in a shootout in Anaheim on Monday.
The Vancouver Canucks lost their grip on first place in the Pacific Division by losing four in a row entering Saturday. That allowed the Sharks to leapfrog the Canucks into first place, but even San Jose was 5-4-2 in its previous 11 games entering Saturday.
Although the Ducks managed to earn at least a point for the fifth time in the past eight games. coach Randy Carlyle was frustrated after the loss to the Maple Leafs because two of his highest-skilled forwards, Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase, had open nets and the puck on their blades during the third period, but Toronto defensemen blocked their shots.
Anaheim entered Saturday 30th in the NHL in scoring at 2.05 goals a game.
"If we continue to get the chances we got (Friday) night, I'm very confident we'll score," Carlyle said.
Colorado is one win shy of 1,000 since they moved from Quebec to Denver in 1995.
The game in Anaheim is the start of a three-game road trip that also includes stops at the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
"We've got to get rested and get ready to give more effort," Colorado center Colin Wilson said. "We're a team that can win every game when we do that."
The Avalanche will start Philipp Grubauer in goal for a second straight game, something they've done one other time this season. Semyon Varlamov started 13 of the first 18 games, but Colorado coach Jared Bednar was impressed with Grubauer's performance after he stopped 26 of 29 shots against Washington.
"He's in the fight to get more time," Bednar said.
The Ducks lost one of their top defensemen when Cam Fowler was struck in the face with the puck Monday against Nashville and sustained multiple facial fractures. In its past two games, Anaheim has gone with three rookie defensemen: Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski.
Another defenseman, Brandon Montour, is in his second full season in the NHL.
Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner said he was impressed with the group.
"I thought their defense were really mobile and it was tough to contain them," Gardiner said.