CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Finding motivation isn't hard for captain Gabriel Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche as they prepare to host the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The defending Stanley Cup champions make their only visit to Pepsi Center on Thursday night, and Colorado is looking for its second victory against Pittsburgh and first three-game winning streak of the season. There is also a milestone that Landeskog's peer on the Penguins is close to reaching.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby has 998 career NHL points, two shy of becoming the 86th player in league history to reach the millennial mark. With 753 games played, the 29-year-old would become the 12th fastest player to reach the achievement.
The Avs have plenty of respect for one of the best skaters in today's game, and they are rooting for him to reach the milestone. Just not against them.
"Obviously, the two points is what matters for us, but at the same time Crosby is, if not the best player, one of the best three players to ever play the game," Landeskog said. "You know that 1,000th point is going to be in a lot of highlight videos, and you don't want to see yourself on that. We'll have some fun with that, and we'll make sure that we see them as a challenge."
Video: Landeskog on what's going right
Keeping Crosby off the scoresheet is a good way to slow down the league's top offensive team, which averages 3.54 goals per game. Crosby leads the NHL with 30 goals and is tied for first with 60 points in 46 outings.
The reigning champs also have the fourth-best power play, converting on 22.5 percent of their opportunities.
"They get on the power play, all those good players, they get to feel the puck and get to feel good about themselves and get some confidence and create some scoring chances," said Landeskog, who netted the overtime-winner in the teams' first matchup on Oct. 17. "So, we stay out of the box and really just build off what we had against Montreal--all four lines were going the last two games--that way we can roll them over a lot better."
The Avalanche has been playing better hockey over the past few weeks and the results in the win column are finally starting to show.
Colorado has won back-to-back contests for the first time since November and has done so in impressive fashion. The Avs defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 on Saturday and then shutout the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 on Tuesday.
"We know there are no excuses. We know that we can beat teams even with a depleted lineup," Landeskog said. "It feels like we've turned the page here. We talked about after the All-Star break making sure that we're at least .500 going in the rest of the way as a goal. We're back at 2-2 after the All-Star break, and now we look ahead."
Winning can breed more winning and the Avalanche hopes to continue that trend Thursday.
"We know we have a lot of tough games coming up, but when you start winning games, everything is more fun," said forward Andreas Martinsen, who scored versus the Canadiens. "It is more fun coming to the rink, and you're excited to play games again. We just got to keep going and be confident and play with the same focus and come out like we did the last two games."
Video: Martinsen on scoring against Montreal
Colorado may have to face Pittsburgh without forward Matt Nieto, who didn't practice Wednesday at Family Sports Center after taking a shot off his leg in the third period of the Avs' victory over the Canadiens.
"X-rays were negative. He got hit kind of more in the calf, I guess, so he didn't skate today," head coach Jared Bednar said. "He's pretty sore, so we'll see what he's like tomorrow. There's a chance he could play tomorrow. He'll be in in the morning and probably go for a skate on his own.
"It could be a lot worse. We saw what happened in the same type of deal with [Erik] Johnson, so to come out of that one OK, even if he has to miss a game, that's better than what some of the other alternatives could be."
Johnson once again skated before practice and continues to rehab from a broken fibula that he suffered after blocking a shot on Dec. 3 versus Dallas. The defenseman joined forward Rene Bourque on the ice in orange non-contact jerseys prior to the 40-minute team session.
Bourque hasn't played in the last two contests after suffering a head injury early in last Wednesday's game against Los Angeles.
"He's progressing the right way," Bednar said of Bourque. "He did a light workout in the gym two days ago, a heavier one yesterday, and today he skated for 30 minutes and was in the gym as well. Hopefully that continues to go until we get clearance."
Video: Coach Bednar's post-practice press conference
Tyson Barrie took part in the Avs' practice, but he was also wearing a non-contact sweater and his availability for Thursday appears to be doubtful. The blueliner has missed six of the team's last eight games due to a lower-body injury.
"I would say he could be a possibility," Bednar said of Barrie. "We'll just wait and see and make a decision in the morning."
Goaltender Calvin Pickard will get his third career start versus the Penguins, while Jeremy Smith will serve as his backup. Colorado reassigned netminder Spencer Martin to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League and recalled Smith on Wednesday afternoon