Friday 19th January, 2018
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35 ℉ | 61 ℉Denver
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Jets on roll heading into meeting with Avalanche

Sports Xchange - Tuesday 2nd January, 2018

The Colorado Avalanche are believers, and they are starting to back up that feeling with their play.

A year after posting an NHL-worst 48 points and 22 wins, the Avalanche could match the win total if they close out the homestand on a five-game winning streak. That would require winning the next three games against quality teams.

First up are the Winnipeg Jets, who are battling for the Central Division with St. Louis and Nashville. The Jets are coming off a 5-0 win over Edmonton on Sunday night. Winnipeg (23-11-6) has won three straight and has 52 points, one more than the Predators to lead the division.

Maybe the hottest player for the Jets is goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who was named the first star of the week by the NHL. Hellebuyck went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and one shutout leading Winnipeg to a perfect week and the top of the Central Division standings.

He made 22 saves in a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers Dec. 27, followed by 42 stops in a 4-2 victory against the New York Islanders Dec. 29. Hellebuyck then made 35 saves to earn his ninth career shutout -- and third of the season -- in the win over the Oilers on Sunday.

Hellebuyck is third in the NHL among goalies with 21 wins.

The streaking Jets could get a boost if Dustin Byfuglien returns as expected after missing the past 10 games with a lower-body injury.

"I'm over sitting here watching. It's exciting to get back on the ice with the guys and being part of the team again," Byfuglien told reporters in Denver. "It's tough to watch no matter how you're doing or how the team's doing. It's never easy to sit but it's one of those things that had to go and I'm just looking forward to getting back."

Winnipeg is a test for Colorado (19-16-3), which is trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2014. After last year's implosion the Avalanche have stayed above water, even surviving a 1-5-1 stretch in November and December that threatened to mirror the collapse of 2016-17.

Instead they responded with a 5-2-1 stretch to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot.

After Sunday's 6-1 win over the New York Islanders, players and coaches were talking optimistically -- and cautiously -- about the turnaround this season.

"There's progress for sure," head coach Jared Bednar said. "The things that our guys are saying on the bench, their leadership, guys chiming in with their puck decisions and talk on the bench and talk on the ice. These are positive signs that we're trying to do the right things and play the right way all the time, not just in games that are tight."

Colorado was already playing short-handed with injuries to defenseman Tyson Barrie (broken right hand) and center J.T. Compher (upper-body injury), but appears to have caught a break with second-line forward Sven Andrighetto. He suffered a leg injury sliding into the boards in the third period against the Islanders and didn't return.

He's considered day to day but Bednar told reporters after Monday's practice he is probable for Tuesday. The Avalanche have dealt with injuries all season and they're still in the playoff hunt, something that was out of reach by early January 2017.

"I think training camp was real good and we set the bar pretty high and that's kind of translated into this season," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "We know there's a lot of work to do still, but the first three months have been fun. I still think we have another couple of gears."

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