Strength goes up against weakness when the New York Rangers travel to Colorado to take on the Avalanche on Saturday night.
The Rangers are looking for their 12th win in their last 16 road games, and if recent history at Pepsi Center is any indication, they should get it easily. Colorado has lost nine straight home games and is in danger of finishing the month of December without a win on its own ice.
"We have to play like it's Game 7," Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie told HockeyBuzz.com. "We're sick of answering the same questions, but that's what comes with the territory when you lose nine in a row at home. It's got to stop (Saturday) in front of a great crowd. Traditionally it's a fun game to play on New Year's Eve, so it's a good opportunity for us to stop this home slide we're on."
It's not just that the Avalanche (12-22-1) are losing at home, they are getting beat handily. They have been outscored 12-3 in the last two games at Pepsi Center, a place where visiting teams used to have trouble winning.
"We show glimpses of playing well, but if you look at the history of the last-place teams in the league, I'm sure they did too. It's just not good enough; you can't show glimpses, it's got to be all the time," Barrie told HockeyBuzz.com. "What's making it hard for us to do, I'm not sure. If I had an answer, I'd be more than willing to share it."
New York (25-12-1) is coming off a 6-3 win in Arizona on Thursday. The Rangers scored four times on the power play in the win and are 14-3 when outscoring opponents on special teams.
Three of the Rangers' power-play goals were scored by 23-year-old Matt Puempel, who recorded his first career hat trick in the win. A first-round pick of Ottawa back in 2011, he has given New York a shot of offense.
"I've got to wake up from my dream here," Puempel told Newsday after the win. "Coming from Kanata, Ontario, to New York City, it's been a real life-changer on and off the ice. I've enjoyed every second. I'm just really grateful for this opportunity."
Puempel isn't the only one rolling for the Rangers. Six New York players have scored 10 or more goals, and the defensive corps is chipping in, too. Nick Holden, a former Avalanche player, has seven goals this season, more than the entire Colorado defense combined.
Both teams are dealing with injuries and illness heading into the New Year's Eve game. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist missed his second straight game with the flu but could be well enough to start Saturday night.
Center Rick Nash is getting closer to a return from a groin strain that has shelved him for most of December, but New York is being cautious with him to avoid a setback.
"We're going to play it a little safer this time," Nash told Newsday after a light skate at Gila River Arena in Arizona. "I didn't do anything hard. I didn't take one hard stride ... I'm still a while away."
The Avalanche are still without goaltender Semyon Varlamov because of a groin strain. He skated a little Thursday but is not ready to return.
"He's feeling better," coach Jared Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com.
Calvin Pickard will get the start again in goal in hopes of ending the home-ice drudgery for both the players and the fans.
"They deserve better and we have to give them better," Barrie told HockeyBuzz.com. "We've got a lot of work to do to win our fans back."
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