Who: Colorado Avalanche (49-14-6, 104 points, 1st place Central Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguns (41-19-10, 92 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Western PA viewing area, Altitude out in the visiting market, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The NHL’s No. 1 team at the moment, the Avs enter tonight on a three-game winning streak and 8-1-1 in their last 10. Really strong stuff, though in March the Avs also lost in regulation to all of: Arizona, New Jersey and Vancouver, so...ya never know in hockey. Like Pittsburgh, Colorado has also been inactive since Saturday afternoon’s game in Denver.
Pens Path Ahead: Tonight kicks off a stretch of seven games in just 12 days for the Penguins. This week is massive: on Thursday the Pens go to NY to see the Rangers for a fourth and final time this season. Then the weekend brings a matinee home back-to-back with Washington and Nashville taking trips to the ‘Burgh for their respective Saturday and Sunday afternoon games. After that, Pittsburgh has a home-and-home with the Islanders, playing on the Island next Tuesday and then back at home to see NYI next Thursday. This hectic stretch finally wraps up with a trip to Boston for yet another weekend afternoon game on Sat. April 16th.
Hidden Stat: In their 26 games since the All-Star break, the Pens have taken a lead into the third period only nine times (8-0-1 record). They have been trailing going into the third period in 10 games (2-8-0) and have been tied after 40 minutes seven times (4-1-2). (By comparison, in this time frame the Avs have led after 10 times out of 27 games [9-0-1], trailed just five times [2-2-1], and been tied 12 times [7-4-1]).
Trivia Question: Sidney Crosby (1,397) is approaching the 1,400 point club. Crosby has played 1,097 career games and only six players in league history have hit 1,400 faster. Who are they?
Season Series: Doesn’t take a long-term memory for this one, on Saturday afternoon the Pens and Avs went toe-to-toe in an exciting 3-2 game where Pittsburgh fell just a little short.
SBN Counterpart Blog: The air is thin and the analysis deep at Mile High Hockey.
—Kadri’s assist total is higher than his previous season-high point totals in all but one year, and his shot at cracking 100 looks gone now that the forward will miss “some time” according to coach Jared Bednar. Bednar added Kadri is expected back in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs but didn’t give a clear timeline after the forward was injured last week in a game against San Jose.
—Rantanen comes into this game with 398 career points in 399 games, he’s set a single-season high in goals, scoring his 35th of the season against the Pens on Saturday. He will definitely be a player to watch in the playoffs, and has done his part scoring 34 points (12G+22A) in 25 total games in the last two postseasons.
—After starting out fairly slow with just a .903 save% in his first 15 games this season, Kuemper has been really stout for the Avs. Since December 1st he is 23-4-3 with a .934 save%, 5 shutouts and a 2.18 GAA. Similar to Carolina, goaltending in Colorado has seemed to be the missing link in playoffs, but if Kuemper continues this form the Avs should be going a long, long way this spring.
Saturday Game Lines
Andre Burakovsky - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen - JT Compher - Valeri Nichushkin
Nicolas Aube-Kubel - Nico Sturm - Alex Newhook
Andrew Cogliano - Darren Helm - Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews / Cale Makar
Jack Johnson / Josh Manson
Kurtis MacDermid / Erik Johnson
Goalies: Darcy Kuemper (Pavel Francouz backup)
Scratches and IR: Nazem Kadri (injury), Gabriel Landeskog (injury), Sam Girard (injury), Ryan Murray (injury), Bowen Byram (conditioning stint in AHL),
—This is setting up to perhaps be a “now or never” year for the Avs. Plenty of key players having great seasons (Kadri, Kuemper, Nichushkin, Burakovsky) are impending unrestricted free agents as are several other veteran pieces (Manson, Helm, Sturm, Cogliano, Murray). They do have some cap space, but also must consider that MacKinnon is up for a new contract after next season and could as much as double his current $6.3 million cap hit. 2022 will be the last stand for this core as it’s seen today, though plenty of quality players remain under contract for next season as well.
—Byram, who has had a lot of concussion problems in his young career, has been recalled and made the trip east. Hopefully he is healthy and healed up. The Avs could use him, being as their left side defense has some weakness once you get past Devon Toews, if not outright liabilities, as probably the lone weak spot on Colorado’s team.
Advanced stats matchup
—There was only one penalty called in Saturday’s game, and that worked to Pittsburgh’s disadvantage. If there is any area that should be an edge to the Pens, it would be their power play (which with Malkin is better than the season rank) against Colorado PK, where as the Pens’ PK and Colorado power play are similarly strong. If each team has about 3-4 power plays tonight, it would probably be a good thing for Pittsburgh.
And now for the Pens..
Projected Game Lines*
*There were three players sick yesterday with non-COVID issues keeping them off the ice
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Rickard Rakell - Evgeni Malkin - Jeff Carter
Evan Rodrigues - Teddy Blueger - Kasperi Kapanen
Filip Hallander or Danton Heinen - Brian Boyle - Radim Zohorna
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith backup)
Scratches: Marcus Pettersson, Anthony Angello (sick, but could play), Jason Zucker (injured)
IR: Brock McGinn (week-to-week, upper body), Nathan Beaulieu (LTIR)
—The Pens have recalled Hallander to the fill NHL roster the first time this season on an emergency basis, meaning he can stay but has to play and must be returned to the AHL once the team gets back to being able to play a full lineup without him. Thus, if 2 out of 3 of Kapanen, Angello and Heinen are healthy, Hallander can’t play and has to be sent back to the AHL.
—Calling up Hallander is a strange move considering other options have more NHL experience (Drew O’Connor, Kasper Bjorkqvist) and it’s not like coach Mike Sullivan is going to play a first timer that much against a great Colorado team. That’s an interesting decision, perhaps suggesting it is a true depth call up and enough sick players will be able to go tonight? It’s an odd spot for a potential NHL debut, given the time of year, opponent and Hallander not exactly being a “Jake Guentzel 2016” type of prospect.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby is three points away from No. 1,400 in his career. Crosby is one point behind Jari Kurri for 22nd place in the NHL’s all-time scoring list.
- 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.
- Bryan Rust’s next point will set a new single-season high.
- Kris Letang has recorded assists in four straight games, and put up seven helpers over the stretch. With 53 assists on the season, Letang has already set a personal season-high in the category.
- 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).
- Evgeni Malkin and Jaromir Jagr are tied for most in Penguin franchise history in game winning goals (78). Crosby is on their heels with 76.
Trivia answer: The only players to get to 1,400 points faster than Sid will be: Gretzky, Lemieux, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, Jaromir Jagr and Steve Yzerman.