Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (26-12-5, 57 points, 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division) @ Colorado Avalanche (25-15-4, 54 points, 3rd place Pacific Division)
When: 9:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, Altitude out west, ESPN+, Sportsnet and TVAS in Canada
Opponent Track: Colorado is just 3-6-1 in their last 10, and just finished up a three-game eastern swing against all the NYC area teams. The Avs beat NJ 5-2 last Saturday, but then lost 1-0 to NYI on Monday and lost 5-3 to NYR at MSG on Tuesday night. Colorado has put up 7 goals in recent weeks in wins against Vegas and St. Louis (two of the best in the west), but they’ve also given up 6+ goals to Minnesota and Winnipeg in recent weeks as well, so their performance as of late has been uneven and swinging wildly between “very good” and “hot garbage”.
Pens path ahead: The Pens’ western trip concludes on Sunday in Arizona, they’ll head home for what is a rare January home game this year to meet Minnesota on Tuesday before heading back out on the road for back-to-backs in Boston and Detroit next Thursday and Friday.
Season Series: It was a thrilling PIT/COL game back in mid-October, culminating in Brandon Tanev scoring a short-handed overtime game winner (courtesy a little accidental help from Gabriel Landeskog). This will be the last game of the regular season series between the two teams.
Recent History: It’s gone pretty well for the Pens, they’re 5-3-0 in the last eight trips to the Pepsi Center, and 7-4-1 overall against COL dating back to April 2014.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Mile High Hockey for your Avs news and notes, where I’m sure they’ve never heard a cheap lame joke about their blog name and legalized substances in Colorado.
Tale of the tape
—A rare matchup of both teams being in the top-10 in both goals for AND goals against, which points to a very elite NHL regular season tilt.
—Colorado could probably use a bit of tightening up defensively. They’ve asked a lot of their goaltenders in terms of allowing a lot of shots, but the goalies have been terrific and up to the task. The PK is in the bottom-third, meaning you would think they might try to add a defensive defenseman near the deadline. Which is kind of surprising since they have what should be decent enough players already (Ian Cole, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov)
—It’s probably OK to be a little skeptical of the shooting % number that Colorado is riding. Only a handful of teams since the 2013 lockout have shot 9.2%+ over a full season (Tampa in 2017-18, 2018-19 and also this year is No. 1...those guys are good! Washington and Toronto in 2018-19 are the others). Can Colorado keep it up? Wouldn’t be shocking to see a bit of regression here in the second half of the season with a little luck balancing out and maybe not so many goals.
—Food for thought on how great the Pens have done “staying afloat” without Sidney Crosby. The last game Crosby played, now just over two months ago, the team was scoring 3.44 goals/game. They’ve barely dropped now (3.33), despite playing 26 more games. That’s really good and a testament to the rest of the team stepping it up and finding ways to generate offense even without the best creator of offense in this generation.
Player Stats at a Glance
—If not for Tristan Jarry, Pavel Francouz might be having the most incredible season in net to come from no where and turn into a bigger than expected contributor. The undrafted 29-year old Francouz played in his native Czech league until 2015 then jumped over to the KHL until 2018, putting up some pretty great numbers in three seasons. He signed with COL was mostly with the AHL Colorado Eagles last season, and has burst on the scene now in the NHL.
—Sid’s bff the Nate Dogg is currently in third place in NHL scoring, and on pace for an absurd 121 points this season (which if he gets there would top Sid’s best year of 120, a fact I’m sure would be pointed out about a million times in training next summer). If not for that pesky Connor McDavid, MacKinnon would probably be the NHL’s brightest young star in the constellation right now, his combination of speed and skill is really incredible.
—Old friend Ian Cole is on pace to absolutely shatter all his offensive boxcar highs this season at age-30. One other interesting standout: last year Cole had a career-high 115 PIMs in his first year with the Avs. This year? Just 24 in 39 games.
Possible Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky - Nazem Kadri - Valeri Nichushkin
Matt Nieto - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Matt Calvert
Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher - Vladislav Kamenev
Ryan Graves / Cale Makar
Samuel Girard / Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov / Ian Cole
Expected Scratches: Mark Barberio (healthy), Joonas Donskoi (concussion last game vs NYR)
Injured Reserve: Colin Wilson
—With 14 goals and 29 points, Donskoi was a great mid-level free agent signing for Colorado this past summer. He will be out tonight (on a play that almost got the Ranger suspended) which will push Nichushkin up the order and get Kamenev back into the lineup.
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Dominik Kahun - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon- Jared McCann -Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk - Andrew Agozzino - Sam Lafferty
Jack Johnson/ Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel
Expected scratches: Kevin Czuczman (healthy), Joseph Blandisi (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery), Jake Guentzel (shoulder), Justin Schultz (lower body injury)
—Bjugstad and Schultz practiced yesterday with the team, both in no-contact jerseys. Crosby wasn’t on the ice so any faint hope of a return to the lineup today was extinguished yesterday. Coach Sullivan called Crosby’s absence a planned day off in the rehab process.
#Pens coach Sullivan on Crosby: "Sid's going through a rehab process, and with the nature of this injury, it's an evolving process. Part of that process is introducing him to the team environment. We see how he responds and the medical staff makes decisions accordingly." -MC— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) January 9, 2020
Notta big deaaal
Per Pens PR, this John Marino kid — pretty good! Getting into some elite company in Pittsburgh franchise history for being a rookie NHL defenseman. Most impressive probably is that Marino’s TOI has crept up past the 20 minute mark, which is pretty extraordinary and such a great benefit to the team with all the time that players like Schultz and Dumoulin have missed.
Penguins rookie defenseman John Marino picked up the 20th point of his career on Dominik Kahun’s power-play goal on Tuesday, making him just the 11th rookie blueliner in franchise history to record 20 or more points. Marino’s .49 points-per-game average has him on pace to challenge Zarley Zalapski’s team rookie defenseman record of 45 points set in the 1988-89 campaign, and is the fourth-highest points-per-game average by a rookie blueliner in franchise history:
Zarley Zalapski .77
Ryan Whitney .56
Norm Schmidt .53
John Marino .49
Doug Bodger .48
Marino currently ranks fourth among all NHL rookie blueliners in goals (4), assists (16), points (20) and average time on ice (20:17). His plus-14 is second-best, only trailing Minnesota’s Carson Soucy (+15) and his 59 blocked shots lead Pittsburgh and are third-most among NHL rookie defensemen.