For two teams that are known for pushing the pace and having dynamic scorers on their rosters, the notion of a defensive game seems a bit off.
The Avalanche and Penguins played a scoreless regulation contest on Dec. 18 in Pittsburgh, with Blake Comeau's goal in overtime being the only puck to get past either netminder that night. Both teams had plenty of chances in the game, but it was the goalies that stood tall. Calvin Pickard, called up from Lake Erie to fill in for an injured Semyon Varlamov at the time, made 47 saves while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots at Consol Energy Center.
"That night, Pickard played really well," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy recalled. "I thought both goalies played really well in that game. It was a 0-0 game going into overtime, but it was not a 0-0 game."
Colorado will look to shutdown the Penguins offense again tonight as it closes the season series against Pittsburgh at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. MT.
"A team like Pittsburgh, I think they like to open it up but they also play good 'D,'" said Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon. "They have been on top of the league every year for a reason. Tonight is going to be a challenge, but we have to play our game, and hopefully we can get the job done."
MacKinnon will face Sidney Crosby, his friend and hockey idol growing up, for the third time in his young career and the first on his home ice. MacKinnon and Crosby are both from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and have trained together in the offseason.
The MacKinnon versus Crosby series is tied 1-1, with the Avs winning 1-0 on Oct. 21, 2013 while the Pens won this year's meeting. Crosby didn't play in the game in Denver last season and is expected to make his first on-ice appearance at Pepsi Center since Jan. 10, 2009.
"It's fun. It was more special the first time, talking after the game. We always want to beat each other, for sure," MacKinnon said of facing his friend. "We actually haven't gotten a point against each other yet, so we've talked about that too. Hopefully tonight that will change."
Slowing down Crosby, last season's league MVP, and Evgeni Malkin—both of whom currently lead the Penguins in scoring with 64 points each—won't be an easy task for the Avalanche. Forward John Mitchell said the Avs would look to not give the duo too much space to work with.
"Those are two guys that are very dynamic players in this league," Mitchell said. "When you're out there, you better know who you are out there against and have a good eye and stay tight on them."
Playing tight and tough is something the club is familiar with after its last contest on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. Despite the 3-1 loss, the Avs played with a lot of intensity against the Wild as it delivered 22 hits and blocked 18 shots in the contest.
"We had a hard-fought battle against Minnesota last game," Mitchell said. "We showed a lot of energy and a lot of grit. I think we need to bring that same mentality out here tonight and be physical and play hard."
The Avalanche's lineup will revert to how it was at the beginning of last week, though with a few minor tweaks.
The biggest difference will be at the top and bottom of the forward trios. New addition Jordan Caron, acquired by the team on Monday at the NHL Trade Deadline, will be on the left side of center Matt Duchene and right wing Jarome Iginla, while Joey Hishon, recalled from Lake Erie late Monday, will center the fourth line with Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche.
MacKinnon will return to the right side of a line that is centered by Ryan O'Reilly and has Gabriel Landeskog on the left, while the Mitchell-centered group with wingers Tanguay and Dennis Everberg will remain unchanged.
It will be Caron and Hishon's first games this season with Colorado, with Hishon's outing also marking his first NHL regular-season game after he made his initial debut with the Avs in last year's playoffs.
"It's exciting," Hishon said. "I've waited a long time to play an NHL regular-season game so I've got to make the most of it and bring as much energy as I can and try and do whatever I can."
Hishon, who led Lake Erie in scoring at the time of his call-up, adds a little more offense to the fourth trio, but he said he still expects to play physical and be able to support the rugged McLeod and Cliche.
"That is something you have to bring every single night, no matter who you are," Hishon said. "You have to be willing to go into the dirty areas and finish your checks. I'm definitely willing to do that."
TANGUAY'S 1,000TH GAME
Alex Tanguay is set to become the 299th player this evening to appear in 1,000 NHL games. He will be the eighth player to reach the milestone in an Avalanche uniform and the second to do so this season, joining Brad Stuart who played in his century-mark contest Dec. 18, also against the Penguins.
"It's a nice achievement, but it's not something I really set out for," Tanguay said of 1,000 contests. "As a kid I always wanted to play one game in the NHL, and fortunate enough to still be here."
After 999 Career games
Goals: 269 | Assists: 544 | Pts: 813
Shots: 1,427 | +/-: 158
Tanguay has registered 813 points (269 goals and 544 assists) in 999 games and is tied for third on the Avalanche in scoring this season with 40 points (16 goals and 24 assists).
Selected by Colorado in the first round (12th overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft, the Ste. Justine, Quebec native will be the seventh player from that draft class to reach the 1,000-games mark, joining Vincent Lecavalier (1,151), Robyn Regehr (1,069), Brad Richards (1,043), David Legwand (1,035), Stuart (1,032) and Scott Gomez (1,026).
While playing in quadruple-digit contests is a special and rare accomplishment, Tanguay said the night is an opportunity for him to show his appreciation to the people that have helped him get to this point of his playing career.
"My parents, my family, my wife, who dedicated a lot of time because as a sports athlete you have to be selfish in some kinds of ways. You need to eat at a certain time. You need to do your things. So it's hard on the family," Tanguay said. "My kids are going to be on the ice. My boy is going to be skating with me when we go on the ice as the [Avalanche Youth Skater]. I'm looking forward to it. For them, it's a nice way for me to say thank you for what they have done for me."
Tanguay will be honored for the accomplishment with an on-ice ceremony prior to the game.
Jordan Caron—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog—Ryan O'Reilly—Nathan MacKinnon
Alex Tanguay—John Mitchell—Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod—Joey Hishon—Marc-Andre Cliche
Jan Hejda—Zach Redmond
Nick Holden—Brad Stuart
Tyson Barrie—Nate Guenin
Scratch: Daniel Briere