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Game 42: Penguins At Avalanche, Preview And Open Thread

Pittsburgh Penguins
3:00 pm ET / 1:00 pm MT
Colorado Avalanche
20-18-4 January 10, 2008 21-19-1
44 Points
Pepsi Center
43 Points
10th in East
Denver, CO
9th in West

The Avalanche begin the second half of the 2008-09 regular season at home today against Gary Bettman's favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Avalanche will also be starting the second half with two new number ones: Wojtek Wolski as the number one center and Andrew Raycroft as the number one goalie.

Wolski played center in juniors and always seemed more at home in that position considering his superb puck control and consistently good position on the ice. Since taking Paul Stastny's place between Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth two games ago, The Baron has scored three goals and one assist, his best multi-game output since October 16 and 18, when he scored four assists in two games. He looks at home in the center spot and will hopefully continue putting up good numbers.

For whatever reason, the Colorado Avalanche play differently in front of Raycroft than they do in front of Peter Budaj. The defense is tighter, the offense is livelier, and the team looks totally different in general. Be it weird coincidence or something deeper (maybe Budaj is a total asshole and nobody likes him), Raycroft gets full-game efforts out of his teammates. Budaj gets 20 minutes at best. Both goalies have very similar personal statistics, but Raycroft's record is now 8-1-0 while Budaj is suffering with a pathetic 13-18-1.

Some would argue that Raycroft has stolen the number one job from Budaj, or Budaj failed to keep it. But it's tough to argue it's Budaj's fault when his teammates managed only two goals in his last three starts, all of which he lost, of course. Before those three games, Budaj put in a superb showing against Nashville. Colorado won that game 5-1. Before that, Budaj beat the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout. So it's not like he's been horrible. His team abandoned him.

But whatever. If Raycroft can lead the Avalanche to more wins and a spot in the playoffs, who am I to complain? I just hope Budaj can get traded somewhere soon so he doesn't waste what could be a very good professional career in the NHL. It's becoming increasingly apparent that Colorado is probably not the best place for him.

As for the Penguins, some joker with the same last name as me over at Pensburgh, our Penguins counterpart in the SBN family, thinks he's pretty funny. His preview of today's game is full of sarcastic little digs and cheap shots.

When you root for the Penguins, you have to be a sarcastic little punk, because you don't have a lot going for you. Like the Avalanche, a team that had to rely on Tyler Arnason as their number one center for several games due to long-term injuries to Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny, the Penguins are just two games above .500.

Take into consideration for a moment that the team with two of the top three scorers in the league is currently out of the playoffs and struggling to score goals. Evgeni Malkin has 63 points in 42 games, 10 more points than both teammate Sidney Jesus Crosby and Capitals hero Alex Ovechkin, who are tied for second place. And yet, the Penguins can't win many games. Pretty sad, especially since it's now obvious that Pittsburgh blew their only chance to win the Stanley Cup last year, choking miserably to the f'ing Red Wings and then losing their big free agent (Marian Hossa) to the same team. That's just sad. Even when Gary Bettman tries to rig the playoffs for them, they still can't win.

And those two top scorers, Malkin and Crosby, may have great stats, but they're nowhere near as awesome as Ovechkin, who is far and away the best player in the NHL today. 27 goals and 26 assists in 40 games is already pretty amazing, but the guy's also got 137 hits. That's good enough for fifth in the entire league, behind only grinders like Milan Lucic, Dustin Brown and Matt Cooke.

Crosby and Malkin are nancy boys with soft hands and softer bodies. They're about as gritty as Tyler Arnason. If given the choice between their whining, crying and half-assed leadership and a badass like Ovechkin, you know who I'd pick. (See related poll on the right sidebar.)

Bring it, Pittsburgh. If the Avs lose, it's cool because Andrew Raycroft is a lousy goalie and the team sucks. You can't expect much more from them. But if Colorado wins, Pittsburgh will have lost to Raycroft and a sucky team depleted by injuries. I'd say it's a no-lose situation for the Burgundy and Blue.

Oh, and JDunman, I know where you live.

ESPN preview.

2008 - Dany Sabourin 18 949 6 7 2 3 43 2.72 438 395 .902 0

2008 - Andrew Raycroft 10 547 8 1 0 0 23 2.52 251 228 .908 0