The Colorado Avalanche lead the NHL in goals, but they’ve struggled to score following their season-high six game winning streak. The return of one of their top forwards may spark the offense.
Milan Hejduk will play for the first time since Dec. 10 when Colorado concludes a five-game homestand Monday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Hejduk was leading the Avalanche, who average 3.43 goals, with 31 points when he aggravated a groin injury after scoring a goal in a victory against Atlanta.
Although Colorado (19-12-4) won its first five games without the veteran, the club has been outscored 8-1 while dropping its last two, including a 3-1 defeat Thursday against Minnesota.
After taking part in a full practice Sunday, Hejduk is set to return. He skated on a line with leading scorer Matt Duchene and Tomas Fleischmann, who hasn’t scored since netting a hat trick Dec. 15 against Chicago.
Left wing Cody McLeod is also ready to return from a groin injury, while center Greg Mauldin is expected to play despite going face-first into the boards against the Wild.
“It’s tough when your team is losing and you’re sitting out,” McLeod told the Avs’ official website. “You just want to be out there helping them. But I’m looking forward to (Monday).”
Craig Anderson was pulled early in the second period Thursday after giving up his third goal on 14 shots.
Peter Budaj stopped all 18 shots he saw in relief and is slated for his first start since Dec. 4. He’s 4-4-1 with a 2.93 goals-against average in nine career starts against Detroit, and 9-6-2 with a 3.00 GAA this season.
It’s unclear who will start in net for Detroit (22-9-4), and coach Mike Babcock may have a tough decision to make.
Backup Chris Osgood is sitting on 399 career victories, but Jimmy Howard is tied with Montreal’s Carey Price for the NHL lead with 19 wins and is 3-1-1 with a 2.17 GAA in his career against the Avalanche.
The Red Wings’ rigorous travel schedule may play a role in Babcock’s choice, as Detroit flew into Minnesota early Sunday morning before Howard beat the Wild 4-1 that night. The team boarded a flight to Colorado shortly after avoiding a third straight road loss.
Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist in the win, and Kris Draper added his first goal of the season. Tomas Holmstrom scored for the first time in seven games.
“The way the last couple days went with spending the 24th and 25th at home having Christmas, and having a real early flight (Sunday) to get (to Minnesota), we’ll take this all day long,” Draper said. “We just wanted to play a real simple game.”
Despite leading the Western Conference, Detroit has lost three of five and had given up four goals in four straight prior to Sunday. The team is trying to adjust to the absence of three-time Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk, who has missed the last two with a broken hand.
It may not bode well that Zetterberg hasn’t scored while totaling three assists in his last nine against the Avalanche, but the Red Wings are 12-3-1 in Colorado since 2002.
The teams have split two meetings this season, which were both in Detroit. Colorado won 5-4 in a shootout Oct. 12, and the Red Wings won 3-1 on Nov. 13.
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