March 11, 2015

Poor offense is back hurting the New Jersey Devils, and bad defense is plaguing the Colorado Avalanche again.

Those problems have dropped both clubs just outside the playoff picture but could result in one having a breakout performance Thursday night in Denver.

Yet, it was the Avalanche (21-20-3) who won a low-scoring affair in New Jersey on Dec. 1, winning 2-1 behind goals by Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie. Colorado is 8-0-1 in the past nine matchups after winning the last five - all by one goal.

Cory Schneider has been victimized by the Devils' anemic offense during that skid, losing all five meetings despite a 1.75 goals-against average, and it's been a similar story lately. He has a 1.68 GAA in his last six starts but won only three of them.

Struggling to score is nothing new for the Devils (21-18-5), second to last in the league with 2.20 goals per game. Even on a three-game win streak that carried them through the new year, they scored just three goals in each victory.

Since that run, New Jersey has totaled six goals in five games while going 1-4-0 - clearly missing Mike Cammalleri's presence. The Devils' points leader has sat out six straight games with an upper-body injury and won't return until Saturday in Arizona at the earliest.

No New Jersey player averages more shots than Cammalleri (2.6), and the club has only mustered 20.6 per game in the last five to drop its league-worst average to 24.5.

The Devils went 17:07 without a shot between the second and third periods Tuesday and were outscored 4-0 over the final 40 minutes in a 5-2 loss at St. Louis.

"When the game was tight in the third period, we have to have a little bit more resolve to get ourselves back in there," coach John Hynes said.

New Jersey has dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference after being tied for the sixth-most points earlier this month, just as Colorado has done in the West following a pair of blowout losses.

The Avalanche fell behind by four goals in the second period of Sunday's 6-3 defeat in Chicago, then was outshot 38-21 in Tuesday's 4-0 home loss to Tampa Bay.

''Obviously, it was not a good performance by our team," coach Patrick Roy said. "We were not good at all.''

Roy's club remains among the NHL's worst defensively, surrendering an average of 2.89 goals and a West-high 31.3 shots per game.

Colorado had been on a 9-2-2 run before the ugly losses to the Blackhawks and Lightning.

"The reason why we won some games is because we played well defensively, and we got away from that," Roy told the NHL's official website.

Roy did feel Semyon Varlamov "had a good game" Tuesday despite allowing four goals on 38 shots. He was pulled in the second period Sunday. With backup Reto Berra (ankle) still out, Varlamov has started seven consecutive games but has a 3.70 GAA.

It was Berra who won last month in New Jersey, but Varlamov has won his last four starts against the Devils while allowing five goals.

New Jersey hasn't scored a power-play goal in seven straight against the Avalanche and doesn't have one in its last five games overall. Colorado has let opponents score on 25 percent of its chances over the past 14 games.

That penalty-killing unit will soon get a boost from the return of defenseman Erik Johnson, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury but returned to practice Tuesday.

New Jersey will be without forward Bobby Farnham, who was suspended for four games for an interference penalty against the Blues.

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