After All-Star festivities that saw Cale Makar blow a tire in the fastest skater competition and the Avalanche trio nearly bring the Central Division back from an early deficit in the three-on-three tournament finale, Colorado gets something even more exciting: A little bit of health!
Bowen Byram is set to return to the lineup in Pittsburgh after three months nursing a lower-body injury, and once he shakes off the rust he should bring a needed mix of speed, skill, and reliable defense to a blueline that has been struggling to close out games.
Valeri Nichushkin will also be back in the lineup, bolstering the Avs forecheck and backcheck game as he always does and hopefully finding a way back on the scoresheet as he has been nearly a point-per-game player when healthy this season.
Of course, the Penguins will also be playing in this game. We’ll see if that matters.
Let’s be honest, this game is all about Bo — missing him and Josh Manson for most of this season has made a weakness out of the part of Colorado’s game that should have been its strength. Can he quickly get back to being the player who quietly dominated last season’s postseason run? More importantly, can he stay healthy? Only time will tell.
Nichushkin’s return is a huge gain as well, as his reliable two-way play and net-front presence have been sorely missed while he’s been on the shelf for stretches throughout the season.
And of course, the Avalanche still have their All-Stars - Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, and Nathan Mackinnon lit it up in Miami and will look to keep the party going in The Steel City after kicking it with Sidney Crosby all weekend.
Artturi Lehkonen (62) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Evan Rodrigues (9) - JT Compher (37) - Mikko Rantanen (96
Matt Nieto (83) - Alex Newhook (18) - Dennis Malgin (81)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Bowen Byram (4) - Sam Girard (49)
Brad Hunt (17) - Erik Johnson (6)
Kurtis MacDermid (56)
Health has been a huge part of the Penguins' story this season as well - specifically the health of Kris Letang, who is back in the lineup following a stroke and the death of his father earlier this year. He has been good since returning and headlines an underrated blue line alongside long-time partner Brian Dumoulin and off-season trade acquisition Jeff Petry.
Up front, the one-two punch at center ice of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can still land a knockout even as Malkin’s jabs have lost a little speed and a little oomph. Crosby’s play hasn’t dipped at all, as he is still arguably a top 5 player in the world at 35 years old.
The Penguins have struggled at times this season, though, including a six-game losing streak around the December holidays and a two-game skid entering the All-Star Break with losses to their rival Capitals and the lowly Sharks.
Jake Guentzel (59) - Sidney Crosby (87) - Rickard Rakell (67)
Jason Zucker (16) - Evgeni Malkin (71) - Bryan Rust (17)
Brock McGinn (23) - Jeff Carter (77) - Kasperi Kapanen (42)
Ryan Poehling (25) - Teddy Blueger (53) - Josh Archibald (15)
Brian Dumoulin (8) - Kris Letang (58)
Marcus Pettersson (28) - Jeff Petry (26)
Pierre-Olivier Joseph (73) - Chad Ruhwedel (2)
Pavel Francouz will take the net for Colorado, looking to bounce back after a tough last go against Anaheim. For Pittsburgh, Casey DeSmith should get the start with Tristan Jarry day-to-day with an injury.