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The Colorado Avalanche planned to return to the playoffs this season behind the play of captain Joe Sakic and free-agent acquisition Ryan Smyth. While the postseason is still within reach, injuries will prevent Sakic and Smyth from having the expected impact.
Colorado hopes to avoid its first five-game losing streak in nearly a decade Saturday night when it hosts the New York Islanders.
Adding Smyth to a team that missed the playoffs by one point despite finishing the 2006-07 season 15-2-2 figured to be more than enough to keep the Avalanche playing after its 82nd game.
That plan was dealt a huge blow when Sakic, coming off his sixth 100-point season, was sidelined by a groin injury in early December. Sakic underwent successful hernia surgery last week and is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.
Playing without its captain and top center was tough enough for the Avalanche (21-16-3), but now it will also be without Smyth for at least the next eight weeks while he heals from a fractured right ankle.
Smyth, third on the team with 28 points, was hurt during Colorado's 4-3 overtime loss at Phoenix on Monday.
"You need more than one (person) to step up to fill the void," right wing Ian Laperriere said. "It takes a team effort."
Colorado's losing streak reached four with a 5-2 defeat to visiting Phoenix on Wednesday. Three of the losses during the skid have come at home, where the Avs had won 15 of their first 18 games.
Colorado hasn't lost five in a row overall since dropping six straight from March 30-April 11, 1998.
Without Sakic and Smyth, the Avalanche need production from their three remaining top scorers - Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and Andrew Brunette. Stastny, though, has no goals in his past seven games, Hejduk has no points in his last four contests and Brunette has one goal in 13 games.
"We're just looking for consistency across the board," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. "From young guys, old guys, that is what we want to bring."
This is the opener of a five-game road trip for the Islanders (20-16-3), who have at least one point in six of their last seven games (5-1-1).
Bill Guerin's goal with 5:19 left in regulation helped New York gain a point before losing 4-3 in overtime to Florida on Thursday.
Rick DiPietro turned aside 28 of 32 shots in his return after missing three games with a knee injury.
DiPietro stopped all 12 first-period shots while wearing his new bright-white pads. The NHL then stepped in and told him to take them off because they hadn't been inspected.
When he came out for the second period, DiPietro was wearing the familiar ones painted in Islanders blue and orange.
Using illegal or uninspected equipment results in an automatic two-game suspension for the player, but the NHL said Friday it won't take any action against DiPietro.
"I can confirm the pads have been cleared. They are being returned to Rick in Colorado and he will not be suspended," Islanders spokesman Chris Botta said in an e-mail to The AP. "I don't know if he'll get the pads in time for Saturday's game or if he will be wearing them."
Guerin's goal was his team-leading 14th and his sixth in six games. Mike Comrie also scored, giving him four goals and four assists during a five-game point streak.
The Islanders have three wins and a tie in their last four meetings with the Avalanche. New York's last visit to Denver on Feb. 10, 2004 resulted in a 1-1 tie.
|Jan 05 '08||NYI 1 at COL 2 - OT||M. Svatos|