January 01, 2015

It took some time, but the Colorado Avalanche have finally found their rhythm this month.

The Edmonton Oilers appear to be headed in the wrong direction following an undefeated start to December.

The Avalanche can extend their season-high winning streak to five by handing the visiting Oilers a third consecutive defeat Saturday night.

Colorado (16-16-1) is 7-2-0 in December after a middling first two months.

"You know what? It's early in the season, and I think it's just a matter of playing some good hockey and winning some hockey games," coach Patrick Roy told the NHL's official website.

"Not only are we at the .500 mark (in terms of wins and regulation losses), which is something we're happy about right now ... we're having a good month. It's important for us to continue to play that way."

Paced by goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Avs have yielded an average of 1.6 goals this month after giving up 3.1 in the first two. They've outscored their last four opponents 11-4.

Varlamov went 5-7-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in October and November, but is 6-1-0 with a 1.14 and .965 since. After stopping 29 shots for his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 win at Chicago on Tuesday, the veteran made 33 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders.

"We're playing solid defensively," Varlamov said. "Everything comes from defense. If we're playing solid defense, we're going to get success.

"It feels really good. I hope we're going to continue to do the same thing because the guys work really hard right now. Everybody is really focusing and we're battling."

Edmonton (14-17-2) has been outscored 8-2 in back-to-back losses to the Rangers and Blackhawks. Prior to those defeats, the Oilers opened the month by averaging 3.7 goals in a season-high six-game winning streak.

''We've clawed our way back into the fight, so we can't afford to lose back-to-back games like this," defenseman Eric Gryba said after Thursday's 4-0 loss at Chicago. "We've got to start believing in ourselves a little bit more ... We don't have the luxury of taking nights off. It's going to be a war for us."

Cam Talbot made 33 saves Thursday but has posted a 3.70 GAA while losing seven of his last nine starts.

"Expectations for each of the individuals were a lot higher than what we got from them (Thursday)," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers' official website.

Talbot is likely to give way to Anders Nilsson, whose five-game winning streak ended against the Rangers. Nilsson has a 3.61 GAA in three starts after posting a 1.75 in his previous five.

Taylor Hall has one point in three games after recording five goals and four assists in the previous four contests. He scored a goal in each of Edmonton's final two meetings with Colorado last season - both Oilers victories - and has seven with seven assists in his last nine in the series.

With two goals Thursday, Colorado defenseman Francois Beauchemin has three and three assists in the past five games.

The Avs have been succeeding despite going 1 for 23 on the power play in the last nine contests.

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