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Avalanche Schedule Preview 2012: Colorado Begins New Year On The Road

Colorado is on the road all week, beginning with a game against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Colorado Avalanche have taken advantage of a home heavy schedule in December, winning eight of their past 10 games (including a franchise record 10 wins in a single calendar month) and placing themselves in the Western Conference playoff discussion. But with nine of their 12 scheduled January games taking place on the road -- and with top forward Matt Duchene out until at least February with an undisclosed knee injury -- Colorado faces an uphill climb this month. The month starts out with difficult road games against three of the most talented teams in the West.

Monday, January 2 at Los Angeles Kings -- The Los Angeles Kings began the season as Stanley Cup favorites after adding Mike Richards and Simon Gagne to an already talented club. Instead, the season has been a severe disappointment and the Kings have struggled to put the puck in the net. Despite a roster filled with former All-Stars, only two players have scored more than 10 goals on the season. As a team, the Kings rank 29th in the league in goals scored (only 2 goals ahead of the New York Islanders). Still, the Kings have won four of their first six games under new head coach Darryl Sutter and remain a dangerous team.

Friday, January 6 at Chicago Blackhawks -- Unlike Los Angeles, the Blackhawks of Chicago have been running rampant through the league with one of the top offenses in hockey. Their 125 goals scored are 2nd in the league, and they have nine players with more than15 points on the season. Marion Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp are all playing near a 40 goal season pace, and led the Hawks to a dominant 10-2-1 month of December. With nine of their 13 January games at home, the Blackhawks are poised to create some separation between them and the rest of the Central Division.

Saturday, January 7 at St. Louis Blues -- The Blues have made a serious leap into playoff contention this season, mostly on the back of former Avalanche goalie Brian Elliott. While he has fallen back from his league leading numbers this past month, Elliott still maintains a very high .938 SV% for the season. If not for Elliott, the Blues would likely be struggling for a low playoff seed with several other teams. Their power play ranks dead last in the league. The Blues also rank 25th in the league in scoring. Only three players on their roster have scored more than eight goals on the season.

Overall, this is a difficult week for Colorado and begins a make-or-break month. January is filled with road games against the very teams that are fighting for a lower level playoff berth, and the Avalanche will have to survive this stretch without Matt Duchene, one of their top forwards. For Avalanche fans, it will be a very interesting month.