Who: Pittsburgh Penguns (41-18-10, 92 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ Colorado Avalanche (48-14-6, 102 points, 1st place Central Division)
When: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: ESPN+/ABC
Opponent Track: The Avalanche became the first team to reach 100 points on the season on March 30. They’re 7-2-1 in their last ten games, scoring 29 goals and allowing 19 over the stretch.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins face the Avalanche once more, this time at home, on Tuesday. On Thursday, they head to Madison Square Garden for a fateful final matchup with the potential playoff opponent New York Rangers.
Hidden Stat: With a 22-8-5 record on the road, the Penguins lead the NHL with 49 road points this season. With a 27-4-3 record at home, the Avalanche lead the NHL with 57 home points this season. It’s the battle of the titans at Pepsi Center this Saturday.
Trivia Question: Kris Letang marked his 50th assist of the season on Tuesday for the second time in his career (he cleared the half-century mark in 2015-16.) Who are the other four defensemen in Penguins history who have notched multiple 50-assist seasons?
Season Series: Thanks to the 2020-21 bubble season, this will be the Penguins’ first time facing the Avalanche since January 10, 2020. That evening at Pepsi Center, now-Kraken Jared McCann scored 3:19 into overtime to earn the Penguins a 4-3 win.
SBN Counterpart Blog: The air is thin and the analysis deep at Mile High Hockey.
Thursday Game Lines
Valeri Nichushkin - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky
Alex Newhook - Nico Sturm - JT Compher
Andrew Cogliano - Darren Helm - Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews / Cale Makar
Jack Johnson / Josh Manson
Kurtis MacDermid / Erik Johnson
Goalies: Pavel Francouz and Darcy Kuemper
Scratches and IR: Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Gabriel Landeskog, Sam Girard, Ryan Murray, Bowen Byram
—It’s not every day you see a player make the jump Nazem Kadri has in his 13th NHL season. His previous career-high was 61 points in 82 games with Toronto in 2016-17, and he’s crushed that record in 2021-22. He leads the Avalanche and ranks eighth among all NHL scorers with 83 points (26-57—83) in 65 games. His success has made the Avalanche’s top lines a deadly one-two punch.
—That Nathan MacKinnon guy is no slouch either— despite a recent injury scare, he has 70 points in 52 games, making him one of only seven players in the NHL to produce at over a 1.30 points/game clip this season.
—Former Penguin Jack Johnson will be taking the ice at Pepsi Center this Saturday. He’s averaging the lowest average ice time of his career so far this season, but is still skating over 16 minutes a game.
—The usual starter, Kuemper, got the night off on Thursday in the previous game. Francouz earned the 4-2 win over the Sharks, stopping 25 of 27 shots.
Advanced stats matchup
—The red on the Penguins’ side highlights their biggest flaw— they actually generate more even-strength scoring chances than the Avalanche, but finish on much fewer of them.
—The Penguins’ biggest advantage on paper over the Avalanche is their penalty kill. At over 85% efficiency, Pittsburgh’s PK ranks second only to Carolina’s. Colorado’s is all the way down at 18th in the NHL at under 79%.
—The Avalanche are one of the best 5v5 teams in the NHL, but the Penguins boast the 10th-highest 5v5 producer in the league— so we might as well call this Saturday matchup the Avalanche vs. Jake Guentzel.
And now for the Pens..
Adjusted Thursday Game Lines*
*After Jason Zucker’s presumed injury Thursday and the lack of practice Friday, we’re guessing lines might be shuffled to look more like they did on Tuesday against the Rangers. (Players shuffled from their Thursday game position are in italics).
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Rickard Rakell - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Radim Zohorna
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Marcus Pettersson (or will he swap with Friedman?), Anthony Angello (or will he swap with Zohorna?), Jason Zucker (presumed)
IR: Brock McGinn (week-to-week, upper body), Nathan Beaulieu
Poor Jason Zucker; he was standing in the Penguins’ postgame video, but after his fall into the boards on Thursday, it’s uncertain he’ll be available for Saturday’s lineup.
Coach Sullivan on Zucker's injury: “I don’t have anything for you as far as where we are at. He is being evaluated as we speak. I feel for him. He’s worked so hard to this point and I knew this game was an important one for him.”— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 1, 2022
The Penguins lines have been in a constant blender lately, so the potential loss of Zucker is something the team will likely be ready to adjust to. It’s a shame, though, if we only get to see the Zucker-Malkin-Rakell line in action for a single period.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby is four points from No. 1,400.
- At 698 career assists, Malkin is looking to join the 700 helper club soon. He will become the sixth active NHL player to reach the milestone.
- With an assist Thursday, Bryan Rust (56) tied his career-high season points total. One more, and he’ll set a new high— not bad for just 47 games, and in a contract year to boot.
- Kris Letang has recorded assists in three straight games, and put up six helpers over the stretch.
- Jeff Carter remains at 799 career points, one more will make him the seventh member of the star-studded 2003 draft class to get to 800 (E. Staal, Getzlaf, Bergeron, Pavelski, Perry, Parise).
Trivia answer: As per Pens PR, Kris Letang joins Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Sergei Gonchar and Randy Carlyle as the fifth defensemen in Penguins history to record multiple 50-assist seasons.