Fresh off bye week, Avs try to rebound from horrid start

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Colorado All-Star forward Nathan MacKinnon took a golf lesson over the team's bye week. Defenseman Tyson Barrie hung out by the beach in San Diego.

Anything to forget about the team's struggles, if only for a little bit.

Now, it's back to work for the last-place Avalanche. This is a team that's laboring to score goals (a league-low 79), stop offensive rushes (129 goals allowed) and has an NHL-worst 5-13-1 record on home ice.

''It's tough coming to the rink every day when you're losing,'' said Barrie, whose team returns to action Thursday night against Anaheim. ''So it was nice to get away and clear the head.

''The guys looked refreshed.''

Colorado coach Jared Bednar noticed a different sort of tempo at practice Wednesday as well. The team had more energy and more spunk, especially in contact drills.

''It got physical, with guys knocking each other down,'' said Bednar, who took over in August when Patrick Roy surprisingly stepped aside. ''That's how you make each other better - practice hard. That's something we've worked on, and some days we have it and others we don't. As a staff, we're trying to drag that out of them on a daily basis so we do it in a game on a daily basis.''

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This should help: a healthy Semyon Varlamov returning to net. He's been dealing with a nagging groin injury since mid-December. He has a 3.33 goals-against average over 21 games this season.

''Hopefully I can play for the rest of the season without an injury again,'' Varlamov said. ''I want to play the second half of the season strong, without any issues with my health. I want to play better and just try to win games.''

It's going to take a monumental streak to climb back into playoff contention. Consider this, just for conversational purposes: Should the Avalanche go on a Columbus-like run - the Blue Jackets recently reeled off 16 straight wins - they would only be tied with Central Division-leading Chicago, provided, of course, the Blackhawks didn't pick up a single point during the same stretch.

''I think we're going to take off here,'' captain Gabriel Landeskog said. ''We know we're capable of playing solid hockey. We know we're capable of winning hockey games. We just have to go out and execute.''

Just how long this particular crew remains together is hard to predict. The trade rumors are already starting to heat up. At the forefront are the team's leading goal scorer, Matt Duchene, and Landeskog. Both are part of the core that general manager Joe Sakic has been trying to build around for the last few years.

''I love being here and want to figure this thing out with the guys that we have in here,'' said Landeskog, whose squad has missed the postseason the past two seasons. ''Whether things change or not, we have to show up and play and make sure we're responsible for the way our team finishes up this year.''

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Duchene couldn't agree more.

''We have a lot of pride in here. We're working hard,'' Duchene recently said. ''Yeah, maybe we're not working smart, not doing the things we need to do to win every night, but we're working toward that and trying to get better all the time.''

This five-day break - new to the NHL - couldn't come at a more opportune time for Colorado.

''Recharge the batteries. Because when you're going through a tough time, it's easier to move on this way,'' said MacKinnon, who was named to the All-Star roster this week. ''We're not the best team in the world from our record, but we're definitely better than how we're playing. I feel, and everyone feels, we can improve and have a solid rest of the season.''

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