(SportsNetwork.com) - Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were the surprise team of the Central Division, but the Nashville Predators have taken over that role in 2014-15.
The division rivals will meet for the first of five scheduled encounters this season when the Predators visit the Avs for Tuesday's clash at Pepsi Center.
With 36 points, Nashville is currently third in the Central and 12 points ahead of last-place Colorado. The Avalanche, of course, won the Central title last season, shocking their way to the division crown in Patrick Roy's first campaign as an NHL head coach. Meanwhile, the Predators missed the playoffs for the second straight season last spring and finished 24 points behind Colorado in the division standings.
Colorado enters this divisional battle on a three-game losing streak, but the Avs hope to turn things around tonight when they begin a three-game homestand. They are 5-6-2 in Denver this season.
However, Nashville has won five of its past eight games at the Pepsi Center and halted a three-game skid in the Mile High City when it won 6-4 on Nov. 6 of last season. Colorado has taken two straight and five of the last seven meetings in this series overall.
The Avs closed November by winning five of seven games, but Roy's team is 0-2-1 at the start of December. Colorado last played Friday evening in Winnipeg and was handed a 6-2 loss by the Jets.
Colorado was tied 1-1 with Winnipeg midway through the opening period, but the Jets broke the tie and took control of the contest with four unanswered goals.
Jarome Iginla scored twice in the losing effort and Gabriel Landeskog assisted on both markers for the Avalanche. Iginla moved into sole possession of 21st on the NHL's all-time goals list with 565, surpassing Mats Sundin and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Semyon Varlamov started the game and absorbed the loss after yielding five goals on 30 shots. Reto Berra came in after Varlamov was pulled and conceded a goal on seven shots in the setback.
"They were the better team tonight. They came out pretty strong and they put a lot of pressure on us," Colorado head coach Patrick Roy said. "We didn't have a good game, that's all."
Varlamov will miss tonight's game after he aggravated a groin injury Monday at practice. The injury caused Colorado's No. 1 netminder to miss time earlier this season.
Calvin Pickard was recalled from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League and will get the start over Berra tonight. The 22-year-old rookie played well during Varlamov's previous absence and is 3-4-0 with a 2.49 goals against average this season.
Colorado also will host Winnipeg on Thursday before capping this homestand Saturday against St. Louis.
Nashville has lost two of three to begin the new month after closing November on a season-high four-game winning streak. The Preds recently split a two-game homestand, beating St. Louis on Thursday before dropping Saturday's decision against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Nashville and the Predators' only goal came off the stick off Colin Wilson just 34 seconds into the third period. Nashville, however, couldn't get any closer than 2-1 and Marian Hossa sealed the Blackhawks' win with an empty-netter with 1:11 remaining.
Victor Bartley and Mike Fisher assisted on Wilson's goal, while Pekka Rinne stopped 28-of-30 shots in the tough loss.
"You're going to look at tonight's game and break down the stats," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "The shots are the same, the chances are the same and the shots at the net are the same. They got one more than we did. We move forward from here and get ready for the next one."
The Preds played Saturday without forward Paul Gaustad or defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who were both sidelined with lower-body injuries. They are both questionable for tonight's tilt.
Rinne is likely to start in net for Nashville. He owns an excellent 11-4-1 mark and 2.14 GAA in his career against Colorado.
Beginning with tonight's test, the Preds are playing three straight and six of their next seven games on the road. Nashville is 6-5-1 as the guest this season compared to a superb 11-2-1 mark in Music City.