NHL

Reeling Kings look to get back on track vs. Avalanche

The last time the Los Angeles Kings were in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche had a promising season going.

They beat the Kings 4-1 on Nov. 15 to improve to 7-8-0, and then won two of the next three to even their record.

Then the bottom fell out.

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Since that win, Colorado is 7-29-3, endured a 10-game losing streak at one point and lost 10 of 11 during another stretch. The playoffs are off the table for the Avalanche, but when the struggling Kings come back to town on Tuesday night, they hope to start an upward trend for the last 25 games.

They have something to build on after going 1-0-1 the last two games, including an overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Colorado (16-38-3) rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to earn a point.

"We didn't quit, we kept fighting in the third period," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.

The Kings (28-26-4) are trying to stay in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference but have struggled lately. They have lost three in a row, including a tough 1-0 setback at Anaheim on Sunday night.

Peter Budaj played well after taking over as the primary goaltender when starter Jonathan Quick went down in the first game of the season, but he has struggled lately.

Budaj won 25 of his first 45 games and had seven shutouts before sputtering in February. He allowed 19 goals in the five games before playing the Ducks and stopped 29 of 30 shots in the hard-luck loss.

"The team's as good as the goalie behind them and the goalie's as good as the team in front of him," coach Darryl Sutter told The Los Angeles Times. "We need better goaltending to be a better team. Very simple."

Los Angeles sits two points behind Calgary for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference and has a game in hand on the Flames. The Kings, more than any team, know just getting into the playoffs is what matters. In 2012, they were the eighth seed and won the Stanley Cup.

But they have to start playing better to at least get into the postseason tournament. They have dropped five of eight in February and have allowed nearly four goals a game over the last six contests.

The players aren't putting the blame on the goaltending.

"The majority of (the goals) are coming off our mistakes, pretty significant mistakes," captain Anze Kopitar told The Los Angeles Times. "That's what's killing us right now."

The Avalanche have been on a season-long struggle but there have been some bright spots. Notably, rookie Mikko Rantanen has started scoring and has shown why general manager Joe Sakic has said he will not trade him.

Rantanen has five goals and three assists in the last nine games and is looking more comfortable in the NHL.

"I feel comfortable after every game," he said after Sunday's loss. "Trying to put pucks more to the net and trying to shoot more, go to the net more. That's how you play well in this league."

Colorado could be without another young player who has started to play well of late. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov sustained a leg injury when he collided with Rantanen late in Monday's practice and had to be helped off the ice.

"He'll have to go get evaluated and we'll see what comes of that," Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com. "He actually fell on top of Mikko but his leg got trapped underneath Mikko and he fell awkwardly."