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Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 3:15 AM

Associated Press

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Avalanche-Penguins Preview
Colorado Avalanche vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Falling behind early has become a trend of late for the Colorado Avalanche, contributing greatly to their recent slump.

They'll look for a better start Tuesday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins, who remain among the Eastern Conference's best while awaiting the season debut of Sidney Crosby.

Colorado fell behind Calgary 4-0 midway through the second period Saturday, and its comeback attempt fell short in a 4-3 loss.

That marked the third straight game the Avalanche (8-8-1) have had fallen behind by at least three goals. They lost 5-2 at Detroit last Tuesday and rallied to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime Thursday.

Milan Hejduk, who was named the team's captain Monday, scored in each of those contests while adding an assist against New York and Calgary.

"It's hard to come back every game," Hejduk said.

Colorado has allowed the first goal in five games during a 2-6-1 slump, losing each of its three road games in that stretch. Semyon Varlamov allowed four goals on 20 shots Saturday and is 0-4-1 with a 4.26 goals-against average and .835 save percentage during that span.

"Playing catch-up hockey (stinks) and it's too hard to win games like that," defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "You're going to come back once in a while but you're not going to do it consistently."

Falling behind against the Penguins is something the Avalanche certainly want to avoid.

Pittsburgh is 7-0-3 when scoring first, though it spotted Carolina a three-goal lead before falling 5-3 on Saturday. Jordan Staal scored twice while Chris Kunitz added his sixth goal.

"We had made one or two mistakes that allowed them to get some goals there in the second period, but we still felt like we had the potential to come back," Bylsma said.

Despite the loss, the Penguins (10-4-3) are 7-2-1 in their last 10 and have outscored their opponents 12-5 in winning all four home games during that span.

Marc-Andre Fleury had Saturday night off after going 6-0-1 with a 1.38 GAA in his last seven games. He's won his last three starts with a 1.96 GAA against the Avalanche.

James Neal has three goals and five assists during a six-game point streak, and he's provided a big boost with 11 total goals - ranking among the league leaders - while the Penguins await Crosby's return.

Crosby skated with Neal and Evgeni Malkin on the top line in practice Monday, but Bylsma said "there is no change in his status."

Fellow forwards Steve Sullivan (lower body) and Tyler Kennedy (concussion), meanwhile, are game-time decisions.

Neal hasn't done much against Colorado in his career, registering two goals and two assists and a minus-8 rating in 10 games - all while playing for Dallas. Malkin has a goal and five assists in three career games versus the Avalanche, who are 6-2-1 on the road.

Hejduk has five goals and three assists in eight career games in Pittsburgh.

Staal had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 overtime victory over Colorado in the most recent meeting Feb. 16, the Penguins' second straight victory in the series.

The Avalanche, however, had won nine of the previous 10 matchups and are 9-2-0 with one tie in Pittsburgh since 1995.

2011-2012 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Mar 03 '12 PIT 5 at COL 1 D. Engelland
Nov 15 '11 COL 3 at PIT 6 E. Malkin
M. Duchene187714-1031
M. Hejduk187613-11041
K. Quincey1831013-11831
P. Stastny185712-4610
R. O'Reilly1821012-3210
D. Jones187411-4721
R. Wilson181910+11800
E. Johnson18099-9000
G. Landeskog18538+0811
D. Winnik18347-31400
S. O'Brien18066+23300
J. Lindstrom14235-8010
J. Hejda18145-12400
C. Kobasew18213-7800
J. McClement16213-2600
R. O'Byrne18123-41600
T. Galiardi15112-4800
C. McLeod18011-23500
K. Porter5000-4000
P. Mueller3000+0000
M. Hunwick1000-1000
S. Varlamov145-8-1454103.30.890
J. Giguere53-1-0101252.18.920
J. Neal1812820-21262
K. Letang1621416+21010
J. Staal169514+61020
E. Malkin115914+01422
P. Dupuis184812+6601
C. Kunitz186410-1421
M. Cooke185510+3410
S. Sullivan18178+0410
R. Park16246-2601
A. Asham17145-51900
D. Engelland18134+11600
J. Vitale18134-1401
M. Niskanen17134+51210
T. Kennedy7134+1200
C. Adams18123-6500
B. Orpik10123+21000
Z. Michalek10123-5600
P. Martin18033-11400
B. Lovejoy13011+11100
M. Letestu11011-6200
D. Jeffrey6000+0000
A. Picard4000+4000
S. MacIntyre4000+0200
E. Tangradi2000-1000
B. Strait1000+0000
R. Bortuzzo1000+0200
M. Fleury1310-2-1263661.96.929
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