A three-game homestand comes to a close on Thursday for the Colorado Avalanche, which hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pepsi Center before leaving for a season-long five-game road trip. It's the second and final meeting between the two teams this season and the only time the defending Stanley Cup champions will be in Denver.
The Penguins enter Thursday's contest sitting in third place in the cutthroat Metropolitan Division and third overall in the Eastern Conference. The Avs are coming off a 4-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens and aiming to win a third straight game for the first time this season. They're 3-4-0 against the Metro during the 2016-17 campaign, including wins over second-place Columbus and Pittsburgh.
The Avalanche is 17-7-6 in 30 all-time games against the Penguins, including a 7-3-4 mark at home.
Last Time Out
Mikko Rantanen recorded his first NHL hat trick and Calvin Pickard picked up his third career shutout with a 27-save performance to lift the Avalanche to a 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center. Andreas Martinsen also scored for Colorado, which finished 1-for-2 on the power play while holding the Habs scoreless on five man-advantage opportunities.
The Penguins had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. After a scoreless first period, Calgary scored twice in the second and led 2-0 entering the final 20 minutes of regulation. Chris Kunitz and Jake Guentzel each lit the lamp in the third to send the game to overtime. Matt Murray stopped seven shots in overtime, but Kris Versteeg sealed the win for Calgary in the skills competition.
Video: Previewing the Avs' matchup against the champs
Last Time They Met
Colorado earned a 4-3 overtime victory at Pittsburgh on Oct. 17, the Avalanche's second game of the season. Gabriel Landeskog scored twice, including the game-tying and game-winning goals, while Calvin Pickard stopped 28 shots. The Avs were 2-for-6 on the power play, and the Pens scored two man-advantage goals on five chances.
What to Watch
Penguins on the Road
While Pittsburgh is the NHL's best home team with a 22-3-3 record at PPG Paints Arena, it ranks 18th on the road, where 10 of its 13 total losses this season have come.
Avalanche Goes For Three Straight
The Avs enter Thursday night's tilt looking for a third straight win for the first time this season. In their present two-game streak, they've outscored their opponents 9-2 and have gone 2-for-4 on the power play while holding Winnipeg and Montreal to a combined one goal on nine man-advantage chances.
Colorado has gotten offense from throughout its lineup as 13 different players contributed in the two games, with nine who have recorded multiple points. Calvin Pickard has also been strong in goal, combining for 50 saves, including his third career shutout on Tuesday.
"For the meantime, I think the confidence was good. We carried over a little confidence from the Winnipeg game into [Tuesday] night. I think scoring early a couple goals helps ride that momentum a little bit yesterday," said head coach Jared Bednar following Wednesday's practice at Family Sports Center. "How do we keep it up? The focus from our group has been really good for the last couple games. We talked a lot about putting the whole package together and over the last couple of games we've had some really good individual performances. And that's what it takes to win."
Player to Watch
Colorado: Right wing Mikko Rantanen
Rantanen recorded his first NHL hat trick on Tuesday night and has six points (five goals, one assist) in his last five outings. Rantanen is tied for ninth amongst NHL rookies with 24 points and his 11 goals are tied for 10th. His 15.1 shooting percentage ranks third among the league's rookies.
Pittsburgh: Center Sidney Crosby
While Thursday's tilt will be the second game of the season between Pittsburgh and Colorado, it will be the first time this year the Avalanche has competed against Sidney Crosby, who missed the first meeting with an injury. Crosby is tied atop the league with 60 points and sits alone in first place with 30 goals. He's notched six goals and four assists in nine career games against the Avs.
Crosby has accumulated 998 career points and would become the third Penguin and 86th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points when he reaches the milestone.
Rene Bourque will remain out of the lineup, but Tyson Barrie, who has missed the last two games and six of the last eight with a lower-body injury, could possibly return. A decision on his status will be made Thursday morning. The same goes for Matt Nieto, who left Tuesday's game after taking a puck to the leg while blocking a shot. While X-rays were negative, Nieto was experiencing some soreness and didn't skate on Wednesday. He will also be evaluated Thursday morning.
Calvin Pickard will make his third consecutive start in goal. He is 1-0-1 in his two career starts against the Penguins, a 1-0 overtime loss on Dec. 18, 2014 and the Avs' win in the first game of the 2016-17 series.
Thursday's contest starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are still available. It will be broadcast live on Altitude TV, and fans can listen by tuning into Altitude Sports Radio AM 950 or online at ColoradoAvalanche.com.