Season series: The Avalanche and Penguins will actually meet twice this season, starting with Tuesday's showdown in Pittsburgh and concluding with a match at the Pepsi Center on March 3. They faced each other just one time in each of the last six seasons, with the Penguins getting the best of the Avalanche in the last two contests -- including a tight 3-2 overtime victory last February.
Big Story: Walt Whitman's famous poem, "O Captain! My captain," sums up the big story of this game as both teams are dealing with captain questions. In Pittsburgh, the question for weeks has been whether or not Sidney Crosby will make his season debut after missing all of this season and a portion of last season with a concussion. It seemed likely that he would return to action on Tuesday, but the latest words from Pittsburgh's captain are, "nothing new to report." Meanwhile, Colorado announced a new team captain on Monday in Milan Hejduk, so perhaps the official name tag will spark confidence in Colorado's young troops.
Avalanche: In its last two outings the Avalanche have vastly outperformed their opponents yet they split those two games with an OT win, and a regulation loss.
Indeed, Colorado's five-game winning streak on the road early on in the season seems to be a lone bright spot for a club that has struggled to play consistently since that span. Perhaps the Hejduk's new appointment will spark that desired consistency and will help prevent Colorado from falling behind early, which was the case in Colorado's last two games.
"When you are down behind the 8-ball, it is tough," Matt Duchene said. "(Calgary is) a good team. We'll take the negative and positive away from this game and learn from both."
Colorado battled back from a three-goal deficit to best the New York Islanders, 4-3, in overtime on Thursday however they were unable to accomplish a similar comeback against the Flames on Saturday night, falling 4-3 despite rifling 16 shots in the third period alone, but it was too little too late for Colorado.
"The end was similar to the Islanders game," Hejduk said. "It is just hard to come back every game."
Penguins: Even with the media circus surrounding the possible return of Crosby, the Penguins have maintained their focus on the game, and they have dominated the Eastern Conference in the meantime.
Despite a tough, 5-3 loss to the Caroline Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Penguins seem to be doing a lot of things right as their record in ten contests indicates with seven wins, two losses and one overtime loss.
Neal practiced on a line with Malkin and Crosby on Tuesday.
"I'm lucky, I know, it was fun playing with those two," Neal said. "The way they move the puck, it's awesome, it was fun to play with them today. I don't know what the lines are going to be but me and (Malkin) are playing good together with (Sullivan), so who knows what will happen."
Who's Hot: Hejduk leads Colorado in goals scored with seven on the season and he has notched five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in his last three games. … Jordan Staal tallied two goals in his last outing – his second two-goal performance of the season.
Injury Report: Brandon Yip is out with a broken forearm, along with Mark Olver (head). Peter Mueller (concussion) is day-to-day. … Crosby remains out with a concussion, while Sullivan (lower body) and Tyler Kennedy will be game-time decisions.
Stat Pack: The top power play unit in the League will face off against the top penalty kill unit in the league on Tuesday night as the Avalanche boast a League-best 27.1 power-play percent, while the Penguins boast a League-best 94 percent on the penalty kill.
Puck Drop: After playing the first two months of the season without a captain, the Avalanche named Hejduk as team captain on Monday. He is just the third captain in Avalanche history, and the 10th in franchise history.
"Milan is a player who leads by example both on and off the ice," coach Joe Sacco told ColoradoAvalanche.com. "He is a product of this organization and won a Stanley Cup with this franchise. He is well respected among his teammates and we feel he deserves this opportunity and responsibility."