Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (34-26-10, 78 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division) @ Colorado Avalanche (41-22-6, 88 points, 3rd place Central Division)
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: National game on TNT
Opponent Track: After a home loss to the Kings on March 9th marked a fourth loss in the previous five games for the Avalanche, last year’s champs might just have flipped the proverbial switch and started their stretch run for real. The Avalanche are 6-0-0 since that LAK game almost two weeks ago, entering tonight with a head of steam. Even though the competition hasn’t been daunting (AZ, MTL, OTT, DET, CHI make up five of the wins), Colorado is starting to put the rest of the West on notice that they have awoken and are ready to make a run at defending their crown.
Pens Path Ahead: Pittsburgh will two-step down to Dallas quickly tonight after the game to meet the Stars. Then the Pens are back home to face the Washington Capitals in
an old timers game err the final matchup of the year between once-great rivals.
Season Series: The Pens fought tooth and nail for a 2-1 OT win over Colorado back on February 7th in one of the more inspiring performances of the night. Casey DeSmith was incredible, stopping 41 shots in perhaps his best game of the entire season, considering the competition. Nathan MacKinnon looked like a man possessed, ripping off 19 shot attempts and somehow only scoring one goal. DeSmith kept his team in the game until Bryan Rust finally got the desperate Pens on the board late in the third period to tie the game up. Kris Letang scored the game-winner in OT. Looking back over the recap, it was one of the top games of this lost season, and that hope and inspiration feels like ages ago.
Getting to know the Avalanche
SBN partner blog: Mile High Hockey
Potential Game Lines
Denis Malgin - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
? - J.T. Compher - Valeri Nichushkin
Andrew Cogliano - Lars Eller - Logan O’Connor
Alex Galchenyuk - Alex Newhook - Matt Nieto
Devon Toews / Sam Girard
Bowen Byram / Jack Johnson
Kurtis MacDermid / Brad Hunt
Goalies: Alexandar Georgiev (Jonas Johansson)
Scratches: Pavel Francouz (injured), Cale Makar (injured), Josh Manson (injured), Artturi Lehkonen (injured), Evan Rodrigues (injured)
IR: Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Darren Helm
—Due to Evan Rodrigues getting concussed on Monday night, the Avs only have 11 healthy forwards at the time of this writing. They have plenty of cap space thanks to LTIR to make a call-up for a replacement.
—Remember when Rodrigues was the Pens’ multi-purpose player who could be put at either wing or center if you needed, on any line? Those were the days. Rodrigues is still his streaky self: he scored 10 points in 11 games in January 2023, then just one point in 10 February games, and now has six points in nine games so far in March. He also suffered a concussion on Monday and won’t play tonight, which is a shame. Rodrigues’ gamble (or perhaps only best hope after the free agency game of chairs left him without a proper landing spot) is paying off, he’s had a nice season and gotten to play a career-high 17:55 average so far. It’s a nice showcase for what should be a good contract offer somewhere, especially with the possibility of a playoff showcase.
—Makar, you might remember, got his season bumped off course when Jeff Carter’s shoulder went into his chin. He returned to the game against the Pens, but missed time after with a concussion. And then, scarily, suffered a second concussion later on (though it was called “minor” which given 2011 days is a term I abhor). Anyways, he was out of the lineup for the last game yet again on Monday this time with a lower body and missed practice yesterday, so it looks like Pittsburgh is going to be fortunate that the Avs’ blueline is about as banged up as their own.
—At this point it’s more surprising to see Galchenyuk on an NHL roster than even Jack Johnson, who the Avs recently traded for a second tour of duty. They like him, for some reason!
—It hasn’t been an easy road this year for the Avs, and their lengthy player sheet reveals that with a franchise-record 43 different skaters dressing over the course of this season. That’s a ton of players going in and out, up and down, over and out very quickly. It’s been a ton of key players out too looking at the GP for MacKinnon, Makar, Nichushkin all missing more than a few games. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is not even one of the 43 players to suit up this year at all, having only recently returned on the ice (and not yet regularly) for practice after surgery.
—One player who hasn’t missed a beat and been the consistent driving force this season is Mikko Rantanen. Is this the quietest 47-goal season in a while or what? Only Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak have more, the latter by just one goal. And no one has more even strength goals this year than Rantanen’s 36. In some ways for the non-McDavid category, given Colorado’s injuries you could make a really good case for Rantanen as an MVP candidate.
—Georgiev has been a tremendous pickup for this season. Francouz hasn’t been that bad himself. Most hockey people will say that GAA tells a lot about a team defense’s mindset and the starter and backup are almost identical. The save% is too, and very strong. Colorado has needed the goalie to prop them up at times this year due to the injury situations, and it’s answered the call.
Ahh, good management
Presented without comment after Colorado’s 5-0 win on Monday night...
This is Denis Malgin's first-career three-point game. He has 12 points in 30 games with the Avs this year.— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) March 21, 2023
The #Avs acquired him for Dryden Hunt, a player they picked on waivers. Slick bit of work by the front office.
Malgin is coming on of late and could be a player to watch. It was a “no risk, fairly medium reward” that at least for right now is showing that reward. Malgin likely won’t be this hot forever, but by then Colorado will probably have Lehkonen, Landeskog (not to mention Makar) to pick up the slack. That’s what good management does is take chances and flyers on somewhat youngish, low-cost, high-skill type of players. It doesn’t have to be a super-long commitment
Bednar called Denis Malgin fearless. Georgiev said he's super skilled. But Malgin just feels like luck was finally starting to turn his way.— Aarif Deen (@runwriteAarif) March 21, 2023
In the #Avs' 5-0 shutout over Chicago, everyone wanted to talk about Malgin's career-best performancehttps://t.co/P0KnfjAGeG
And now for the Pens...
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Ryan Poehling - Mikael Granlund
Drew O’Connor - Jeff Carter - Josh Archibald
P.O. Joseph / Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin / Chad Ruhwedel
Mark Friedman / Taylor Fedun
Goalies: Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Alex Nylander, Jeff Petry (upper-body injury), Jan Rutta
IR: Dmitry Kulikov (out week-to-week, lower-body injury, LTIR), Nick Bonino (out week-to-week, lacerated kidney, LTIR), Marcus Pettersson (lower body, LTIR)
—The good news is that Jeff Petry skated Monday after the players when the morning skate was over and made the trip to Colorado, where he again skated yesterday following the team session. Needless to say given the situation on the defensive depth chart right now, the Pens can’t get him back a moment too soon, although hopefully given the nature of his injury (getting smacked with an elbow in the face) he is fully healed and ready to return ASAP. Doesn’t look like that is going to be today, but hopefully won’t be too long out either.
—Casey DeSmith (not feeling well) was not on the ice for practice yesterday. The Pens only have the two goalies on their road trip, so we’ll see what condition he is in today. DeSmith was great against Colorado last month and it is a back-to-back with Dallas tomorrow, so if he’s up to it they’ll probably need him to be playing soon.