TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Things are not about to get easier for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mired in a six-game losing streak and playing for the foreseeable future without the face of the franchise, the Pens will meet the Colorado Avalanche at Mellon Arena.
Pittsburgh is 0-8-1 against Colorado since a 3-2 win in Denver on Feb. 25, 1999. The Penguins are also 1-14-3 in their last 18 games against the Avalanche franchise dating back to Feb. 27, 1995 when they were the Quebec Nordiques.
In their first game since Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, the Penguins were blanked Thursday by the Minnesota Wild, 5-0.
The loss of the Hall of Famer combined with the recent losing skid has forced standout rookie Sidney Crosby to take on more of a leadership role.
"I don't know if the effort was there," Crosby said after the latest loss. "NHL teams, they've got to find a way to be prepared for an opponent. They've got a good team and a good system over there, but that doesn't make it any better."
Crosby was held without a point for the fourth time in five games.
Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said a turnaround is possible.
"Ultimately it comes down to the execution," he said. "We need to find a way to execute against a real good team in Colorado on Saturday night. The time is now for all of us to step up to the plate and turn it around."
Pittsburgh's goaltenders will need to find a way to stop veteran Joe Sakic, who has 15 goals and 17 assists during an 18-game points streak against the Penguins that started on Feb. 21, 1995.
Colorado is coming off a 4-3 shootout win Friday over the New Jersey Devils. Rookie goaltender Vitaly Kolesnik again was the star of the show in just his second NHL game.
Kolesnik stopped Viktor Kozlov, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Brylin, John Madden and Jamie Langenbrunner during the shootout.
"I think what we're seeing here is what was on display in the world championships last year," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said about Kolesnik, the former top goaltender for Kazakhstan. "His performance created interest in the eyes of a couple of people in the organization."
In two games, Kolesnik has stopped 52 of 56 shots faced for a .923 save percentage.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 9): Avalanche - 35 points, 3rd place, 3 PB, Northwest Division. Penguins - 20 points, 5th place, 22 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 13 goals; Tanguay, 21 assists and 32 points; Ian Laperriere, 50 PIM. Penguins - Crosby, 13 goals and 29 points; Zigmund Palffy, 18 assists; Brooks Orpik, 49 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 9): Avalanche - Power play: 19.8 percent (37 for 186), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.3 percent (135 for 160), 7th. Penguins - Power play: 15.8 percent (29 for 183), 20th (tied). Penalty killing: 78.8 percent (145 for 184), 26th.
GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - David Aebischer (11-6-0, 1 SO, 3.37 GAA); Kolesnik (2-0-0, 0, 2.00). Penguins - Jocelyn Thibault (1-8-2, 0, 4.44); Marc-Andre Fleury (1-4-1, 0, 3.08).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: March 1, 2004, Avalanche, 4-1. At Denver, Steven Reinprecht and Blake scored 1:41 apart in the third period as Colorado extended its unbeaten streak against Pittsburgh.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 8-6-0 on the road; Penguins - 3-8-3 at home.