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The Colorado Avalanche need a player to step in and become the offensive sparkplug now that longtime captain Joe Sakic will be out for up to three months.
Ryan Smyth may be ready for the challenge.
Now healthy again, Smyth and the Avalanche square off on Saturday against the league-worst Los Angeles Kings, who are trying to avoid a dubious club record.
Prior to a 4-2 loss to league-leading Detroit on Thursday, Colorado (21-14-2) learned Sakic would undergo hernia surgery on Friday and be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks. Now in his 19th season, the leading scorer in Avalanche franchise history with 1,611 points has missed 13 straight games since Nov. 30.
"A huge loss for us," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "Obviously, a player of his abilities and what he brings to the organization and the team on a game-by-game basis is irreplaceable."
The Avalanche, though, are 8-4-1 since Sakic's injury and tied with Minnesota for second in the Northwest Division, two points behind Vancouver.
"I think in his absence over that last stretch we've done a good job. But I don't think we should feel like it's going to get any easier going forward or anybody's going to feel sorry for us without Joe in the lineup," Quenneville said.
Smyth, the Avalanche's marquee free-agent signing in the offseason, returned against the Red Wings after missing three games with a strained neck but failed to record a point. With Sakic now officially out for an extended period, Smyth's return couldn't come at a better time.
On Dec. 1, he scored two third-period goals to lead Colorado to a 5-2 victory over the Kings. Just 16 days later against Los Angeles, Smyth's power-play goal less than 3 minutes into the game started a three-goal first en route to a 4-2 triumph in his last game before the injury.
"We know he has been trying hard to get back, and he saw the doctor and things weren't good," Smyth said of Sakic. "It's disappointing, but collectively we have to figure out a way through this together and all step up."
Smyth has scored 36 goals in each of his last two seasons, but has just 11 in 34 games after signing a five-year, $31.5 million contract with the Avs.
The Kings (12-24-2) enter this game with the league's worst record, fewest points and have lost eight straight in regulation for the first time since Jan. 19-Feb. 15, 1970. They've never dropped nine straight regulation games, and are on their worst stretch after going 0-9-2 to close out the 2003-04 season.
"The only solace in all of this hopefully is that the guys learn to hate losing," said Kings coach Marc Crawford, who was booed when his name was announced along with the starting lineup before a 3-2 defeat to San Jose on Wednesday. "There's some dejected people in our room right now, but I don't think anybody is quitting. There's a lot of effort. All you can ask for is better execution."
Los Angeles isn't getting much production from its top scorers. Dustin Brown, who leads the Kings with 16 goals, returned after missing two games with a shoulder injury but has scored only twice in his last six games.
Anze Kopitar has no goals in his last seven games and Michael Cammalleri, who missed the Wednesday's game with a rib injury and is day-to-day, has only one in his previous nine. Kopitar and Cammalleri are tied for second with 15 goals.
Rob Blake had a power-play goal and assisted on fellow blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky's tally in the final minute against San Jose. Highly touted rookie defenseman Jack Johnson - the third overall pick in the 2005 draft - has no points and is minus-8 during the Kings' losing streak.