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Road trip may be just the trick to fix Avalanche's hard times

A perennial power, the Avalanche are 1-2-2 so far this season, already six points behind division-leading Minnesota. They look puzzled at times on the ice and watched an NHL-record 487-game sellout streak come to an end on Monday night after 11 years.

It's time for a road trip. The Avalanche will face Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in a four-day span - something forward Ian Laperriere is looking forward to.

"We have a lot of new faces," he said. "Maybe this road trip is at the right time? To get on the road, have dinner together, chat and have quality time together - that will help build some chemistry."

The team doesn't seem concerned with its sluggish start. Although the Avalanche rank 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference - and sits in last place in the Northwest Division - they're not about to sound the alarm. And if you want to see players roll their eyes, simply mention to them that they're struggling.

"We're five games into the season," defenceman John-Michael Liles said. "It's a long year."

Colorado has traditionally been a slow-starting team. The Avalanche have started with a winning record through five games just four times over the last 10 seasons. In 1998-99, Colorado began 0-4-1 and still made it to the Western Conference final, where the team lost to Dallas in seven games.

"It doesn't take much to get you back on track," goalie Jose Theodore said. "I want to bounce back."

Theodore gave up the game-winning goal to Chicago's Martin Lapointe on Monday on a shot from just outside the right circle he felt he should've stopped.

"I expect a lot more out of myself," Theodore said. "My job is to make those big saves and last night I didn't make them."

Theodore will face his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, on Saturday. He was traded to the Avalanche for David Aebischer last March.

"That's going to be special," he said. "But you've got two big games before that. I cannot cheat myself by thinking too far ahead."

The Avalanche knew it was going to take some time to develop as a team. They lost veterans like Rob Blake, Dan Hinote and Alex Tanguay over the summer thanks to a salary-cap system designed to bring more parity to the league.

Joe Sakic is the only bona fide star the Avalanche have left on the ice. He has two goals and a pair of assists through five games. Colorado's leading scorer is Wojtek Wolski, who's fourth among rookies in the league with three goals.

Colorado's other big name, Milan Hejduk, has been held to just one goal so far this season. He had 50 during the 2002-03 season.

A hernia has kept Jordan Leopold - acquired from Calgary in a trade for Tanguay - out of the lineup. His scheduled return later this month could help bolster a defence that's given up 17 goals through five games.

"We have a good mix of young and older players," Laperriere said. "Our older guys have been through this (early season losses). We know it's a long season. You struggle for a couple of games and you come back. You've got to find a way to simplify the game and play smart."

The Avalanche earned four points with a pair of overtime losses to start the season, and then posted a 3-2 win over Vancouver. Any momentum derived from that was halted by a five-day break between games. The Avalanche have been outscored 9-6 over the last two games.

"It seems like we lost a little bit," Theodore said of the time off.

And now they're attempting to get it back.

"Every team goes through (this)," Laperriere said. "We'll be fine. It's good timing to go on the road. It's always fun to have a little road trip."



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