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Seemingly hitting their stride, Avalanche visit Flames

Jan 16, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz (39) and left wing Artturi Lehkonen (62) celebrate the win over against the Detroit Red Wings at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Bad news for the NHL: The defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche appear to be back on track.

The Avalanche, buoyed by a stream of players returning from injury, head into Wednesday’s road clash with the Calgary Flames having won two straight, combining for 13 goals over the course of their modest winning streak.

It could represent a much-anticipated turnaround for the team, which currently sits outside a playoff spot and had been on a 1-6-1 skid.

“There’s not too many areas I want to complain about from our last couple of games,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said after his team staked a 5-0 lead and coasted to Monday’s 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings. “To be able to win and win the right way and kind of get back on track on what we have to do to have success, I think is good timing.”

It certainly helps when the stars are shining brightly. Against the Red Wings, Nathan MacKinnon netted two goals and had two assists and is riding a five-game point streak, while standout defenseman Cale Makar notched two goals and one assist.

The Detroit game also marked the return of forward Valeri Nichushkin, who missed nine games due to an ankle injury. Nichushkin was rusty, even while collecting an assist, but his size and skill adds an element the Avalanche relish.

“We need him. We need depth,” Avalanche forward Andrew Cogliano said. “Guys go back to (their) usual spots.”

Colorado remains without captain Gabriel Landeskog and a pair of key defensemen in Bowen Byram and Josh Manson.

The Flames, who currently sit in a wild-card spot, return home following Monday’s 2-1 loss at Nashville that ended a five-game road trip. The Flames posted a 2-1-2 mark on the trip, which didn’t live up to expectations.

Especially frustrating was how they were badly outplayed through the first two periods in Nashville before they saw a frantic comeback attempt fall short.

“It was a pathetic effort by us,” said Calgary defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who scored his team’s lone goal. “First two periods, for sure. We were a step behind. Energy wasn’t there, commitment wasn’t there, we weren’t shooting, we were making bad plays, giving up too many chances. Just all-around, bad effort for us. We have a goal. We have a game plan and know how we should play and have to play. It just wasn’t there.”

Plenty hasn’t been “there” for the Flames this season, which is why they have so far fallen short of expectations. Last year’s team, which finished atop the Pacific Division, was ranked among the best in the league both offensively and defensively. So far this season, the Flames are 18th in goals against and 20th in goals for on a per-game basis.

The lack of offense reared its head against the Predators.

“I think after two periods, we had some guys with no shots, so we’re counting on some guys to produce a little bit,” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. “We saw it on the trip. It wasn’t just (Monday).”

Making the situation more confusing is the fact the Flames have a roster with plenty of veteran experience, along with a proven coach, yet are not showing the consistency expected of them.

“I didn’t like the goals against in the first period and thought when you take a penalty on a five-on-three when it’s 2-1 … you’re probably not in the right mindset,” Sutter said.

–Field Level Media