The Avalanche enter Tuesday night’s game in Pittsburgh on an 11-game point streak. The last time out, Colorado beat Detroit 2-0 in a chippy affair by virtue of — stop me if you’ve heard this before — two points from each of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog.
Colorado is now two points behind Nashville in the Central Division standings with one game-in-hand. The Predators are off on Tuesday, so it’s another opportunity for the Avalanche to grab the division (and conference) lead again.
In Pittsburgh, there’s been a bit of a panic this season. The Penguins have just 25 points in 25 games and are four points back of the second-wild card spot to make the playoffs. In their last outing, the Penguins lost to the rival Flyers 4-2.
Colorado defeated Pittsburgh 6-3 last Wednesday at Pepsi Center, in spite of a Sidney Crosby hat trick. MacKinnon had a goal and three assists and the Avalanche had a narrow 26-25 edge in shots on goal.
Expect the Penguins to be hungry for a win, but with their goaltending play coupled with the teams’ recent ventures, this is another game Colorado should feel like it can win.
The Avalanche top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog has continued its torrid pace, now with a combined 118 points this season. Colorado is 9-0-2 in its last 11 games, the only minor hiccups being overtime losses to Washington and St. Louis.
Here’s the big news from morning skate:
Over the last two seasons, Barrie is among the NHL leaders in points per game by a defenseman and, while Colorado didn’t miss a beat in his absence, the star blue-liner will surely be welcome back tonight.
We’ll see if
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - J.T. Compher - Gabriel Bourque
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Ian Cole
Semyon Varlamov will get the start for the Avalanche after recording his first shutout of the season on Sunday.
Pittsburgh is 4-9-3 in its last 16 games played, which is an unusual situation for a franchise accustomed to success and good fortune.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are all having solid seasons, combining for 87 points (only 31 fewer than the Avalanche top trio) this year.
Matt Murray is starting to skate, but the Penguins goalie still isn’t in the lineup with a lower-body injury. Replacement Casey DeSmith, the likely starter tonight, has been better than Murray anyways. DeSmith has a .922 save percentage this year, compared with Murray’s dismal .877.
Here were the lines from the Penguins’ Monday practice:
Jake Guentzel - - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Tanner Pearson - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Derick Brassard - Phil Kessel
Riley Sheahan - Derek Grant - Bryan Rust
Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Juuso Riikola
Jack Johnson - Jamie Oleksiak
The Penguins have strong special teams, ranking 8th in the league on the power play and 6th in the league on the penalty kill.
DeSmith didn’t start last week for the Penguins, who opted for backup Tristan Jarry in that one. DeSmith’s presence between the pipes should be more of a challenge tonight.