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Penguins / Avalanche game preview

A look at the Colorado Avalanche as they come to town to play the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

5 Things to know about Colorado

#1 Last year the Colorado Avalanche were one of the charmed teams in the league, one of the surprise teams under first year coach Patrick Roy. This year, they've struggled. One reason? Where did the goals go? This season the Avs rank just 21st in goals for (2.50 per game) and 28th in goals against (3.20 per game) this season.  Last year that was 4th in GF (2.99 per game) and 15th in GA (2.63 per game).

Their power play has also gone from 19.8% to 13.0% so far this year.

#2 Taking the lead doesn't mean much to Colorado. This season they're only 4-5-1 when they score the first goal of the game, which ranks 29th in the league. And the Avs have the worst record in the league (3-2-2) when they have a lead after two periods.

#3 Out of the seven leading scorers on the Avs, it's very young or very old with not much in between. Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie (23), Gabriel Landeskog (21) and Nathan MacKinnon (19) are the young contingent. Alex Tanguay (35) and Jarome Iginla (37) make up the older portion.

#4 Speaking of old friends, Max Talbot has appeared in all 30 games for Colorado this season, scoring just 2 goals, 4 assists and is a -6 with 17 penalty minutes. Talbot only played 13 and a half minutes per game, including about 10 at even strength. However, he still remains a large part of the Avs' PK unit, logging the most minutes per game of any forward on the team. To the naked eye, from admittedly just a few games this season, Talbot barely resembles the player he used to be in Pittsburgh. The energy, speed and ability looks like it's been taken back a step.

#5 Tonight's goalie for the Avs will be Calvin Pickard, 22, a 2010 second round pick who's making his NHL debut this season in part thanks to the groin injury that has limited Semyon Varlamov. Pickard (.927 save % in 10 games) has been much better than backup Reto Barra (.886 sv% in 10 games) and got an NHL profile about his ascension to the show. There's not a lot of tape on Pickard, so it will be interesting to see how the Pens fare. A couple of telling stats from the NHL.com piece- Pickard has faced an average of 35 shots in his past 7 games and has a .936 save % in his last 8. He's been frequently tested, but has stood up very well lately.

5 Things to know about Pittsburgh

#1 Mumps the word, as we await news of the illness. Sidney Crosby may be back tonight and it definitely seems like Marc-Andre Fleury, even if not suffering from the mumps, most likely won't play being as Jeff Zatkoff got called up. Update: Fleury has been cleared from the mumps (yay!) but now Greiss is being tested for it.

#2 Lost in all the injury/illness talk is the roll the Pens are on. In the last going on 4 weeks they have only lost two regulation games, have won 7 and have dropped 2 in OT.

#3 Per Ryan WIlson at Hockey Buzz: Thomas Greiss is #1 in the NHL in adjusted Save % with .951% and #2 in the NHL with an EVSV% of .952%.The Pens are in good hands even if Fleury is out for the short-term. But with 4 games in the next six days before Christmas break, the workload will be much more concentrated than it has been in the early part of the season. See update above!

#4 Steve Downie was traded from Colorado to Philadelphia for Max Talbot last year. Downie has undergone a career renaissance of sorts in Pittsburgh, scoring 15 points (5g,10a) in his first 30 games as a Penguin. There's a scandalous reason that Colorado decided to dump Downie, and it stems from some beef that Downie had with Avs team captain Gabriel Landeskog. Could be interesting to see if either one goes after each other.

Let's note though, that it will probably prove to be nothing, being as Downie (as a Flyer) played Colorado 2 times last season after the trade, and made it through both games without receiving a single penalty minute. Weird, right?

#5 The Pens (with a 15-1-1 record when they lead after 2 periods and a 16-3-3 record when scoring first) have been the polar opposite of Colorado. They've had little problems getting and keeping leads, hopefully that will be the case again tonight.

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