Preview: Avalanche at Blue Jackets
Lagging in 13th place in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche have been seeking a spark to climb into the postseason chase. One will arrive Sunday when Ryan O'Reilly makes his first appearance of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opener of a three-game road trip. O'Reilly, the leading scorer for Colorado last season, had his five-week contract stalemate come to an end when the Avalanche announced Thursday that it had matched Calgary's two-year, $10 million offer.
Columbus owns the league's worst record and is mired in a hard-luck, four-game winless streak as it opens a four-game homestand. Each defeat has come by one goal and the last two were in overtime, including Friday's 4-3 setback at the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks. The Blue Jackets have won only once in eight games (1-5-2) and are riddled with injuries but they put forth an inspired effort in Chicago, leading twice in a bid to hand the Blackhawks their first regulation defeat of the season.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, Altitude (Colorado), Fox Sports Ohio (Columbus)
ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (8-8-3): O'Reilly had an impact on Colorado before he even set foot on the ice. The team announced his signing during Thursday's matchup with Calgary and the Avalanche responded with three third-period goals to erase a 4-2 deficit in a 5-4 victory. O'Reilly scored 18 goals and had a team-high 55 points last season. He is expected to center a line with Milan Hejduk and John Mitchell. "He looked very comfortable," coach Joe Sacco said after watching O'Reilly work with the power-play unit during Saturday's practice.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (5-12-4): The back-to-back overtime defeats were hardly morale boosters for Columbus. "It's such a crappy feeling," goaltender Steve Mason said. "When you look at the grand scheme, coming up one goal short against these guys means we're doing a lot of things right to be able to stick with them. But we're not doing enough." The Blue Jackets are 3-4-3 at home and own victories over the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. Artem Anisimov returned from a three-game injury absence to score versus Chicago.
1. Matt Duchene scored a pair of goals in Colorado's 4-0 home win over Columbus on Jan. 24.
2. Blue Jackets C Ryan Johansen scored his first goal of the season Friday, ending a 37-game drought.
3. Colorado has won just twice in 10 games away from home (2-6-2).
PREDICTION: Avalanche 3, Blue Jackets 1
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