The Avalanche are on an absolute tear. They took home a win over one of the league’s toughest teams last night, extending their current win streak to five games and improving to a 14-6-4 record on the year.
They’re on their second back-to-back of the week, which is a tough break for the Central Division club.
Luckily, they’re facing off against another back-to-back team, and one that’s been in a bit of a free-fall this year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to be a contender for yet another season, but they’ve struggled to remain in the playoff hunt through the first quarter of the year. They sit on a 10-8-5 record of their own, only remaining above the league’s bottom 10 by virtue of the loser point. If they didn’t have their overtime losses, they’d be in worse shape than both the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks — and with their goaltending barely holding its head above water, there isn’t a ton of reprieve in sight.
Both teams will be tired, so it’s going to be a battle of wills — and league-leading talent, of course.
The top line remains the team’s strongest weapon, but keep an eye on a handful of other performers throughout the lineup — especially JT Compher. Now that he’s back, he’s really been jumping into things, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. Oh, that penalty kill.
No return of Barrie, which is a disappointment - but keep an eye on Erik Johnson, who has been ramping things up lately.
The fourth line for Pittsburgh was good for two of their four goals against the Jets last night. You know, just like we all expected!
I honestly don’t really know what to say about Pittsburgh’s D-pairings, other than that Kris Letang has quietly been one of their pivotal players this year. For a team that’s struggling, he’s been a key reason that they aren’t sinking as fast as some of the other recent playoff contenders. Add in a strong third pairing and their goaltenders aren’t being quite as hung out to dry as Anaheim’s, if you get what I mean.
Philipp Grubauer will get another start, earning a well-deserved nod in the second half of yet another back to back to keep Varlamov fresh.
When I spoke to the German starter here in Phoenix this weekend, he told me that he had been unsatisfied with his performance up to that game. “I was letting in three goals a game... the team can’t keep expecting to score five or six just to keep me in it with the wins.” He’s feeling more comfortable with the system now, so expect that incredible work ethic to hopefully translate into another win.
Across the ice, Pittsburgh is projected to start Tristan Jarry, but no official guarantee yet. With a back to back like this, it’s really anyone’s guess, although it’s hard to believe they’ll do Casey DeSmith dirty like that.
Not much to say about Pittsburgh’s goaltending this year other than the grimace emoji. Something has to give there eventually, but it’s currently hard to tell what, exactly, that’s going to be.
HOW TO WATCH:
The Avalanche are hosting, so it’s a 7:30 PM MST puck drop. Catch the game on NBC Sports.