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Postgame Wrap-Up: Defense Sparks Avs versus Penguins

Girard and Johnson get Colorado on the scoreboard first

by Callie Parmele @CallieParmele /

The top line continues to lead the Colorado Avalanche offensively, but the Avs' defense got the team rolling at Pepsi Center on Wednesday.

Blueliners Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson scored the first two goals of the night for Colorado in a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to extend the club's winning streak to six games.

The Avalanche's defensive unit has now scored six times in the last five outings.

"We are seeing opportunities to join the play and forwards are doing a good job when they have speed they are delaying, they are finding us late and managing to find the back of the net," said Johnson. "It's fun to help contribute, and it's coming from different guys sometimes on different nights. It's not just the top line, but when they are rolling and we get secondary scoring it's just a bonus."

Girard scored after he carried the puck out of the defensive zone and sent it to Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who quickly found him open in the slot. Johnson fired a one-timer from the point 5:13 into the second frame to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead.  

Video: PIT@COL: Girard buries nice dish from Rantanen

Although the Avs defense was picking up assists through the first 10 games of the year, it took 11 outings for a Colorado rear guard to finally tally. As a unit, the seven players now have 12 markers in the last 15 matchups.  

"They just kind of stick with it. I think the first 10 games of the season they weren't finding ways to get their shots through and weren't finding ways to score goals necessarily, but they were still playing real well," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog. "And now, it's just that they stuck with it and keep doing all the little things right that is going to get them rewarded, and it seems like they are right now."

Johnson played a team-high 24:51 in the outing and finished with a plus-4 rating, matching his career high (also Nov. 14, 2015 at Montreal).

The Avs started the game strong and kept Pittsburgh's scoring chances to minimum. The Penguins did not register their first shot on net until the 11:54 mark of the first period.

Video: PIT@COL: Johnson blasts one-timer from the point

 "We were both coming off back-to-backs, so it was good for us to jump on them early and I don't think they had any shots on goal halfway through the first," said Johnson. "We came out with a lot of jump, a lot of urgency. Started the game off well and found a way to get it done."

The Avalanche swept its back-to-back set after the club defeated the Nashville Predators 3-2 on Tuesday. Colorado also won both games the last time it played two games in two days (Nov. 23-24). It's the first time the club has swept two consecutive back-to-backs since November 2013 (Nov. 1-2 and Nov. 29-30).

"Our schedule has been tough. We have had a lot of travel, a lot of road games," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We have taken care of business at home here now the last couple games anyway, and we are a confident team at home. Last year we weren't so great on the road, but this year I feel like we are mirroring our home game more on the road and our belief and our commitment has been really good.

"I think it's growing, so hopefully we can continue with that and keep playing the way we are playing and defending the way we are defending because when we do we have success."

MULTI-POINT STREAKS FOR MacK AND MIKKO: Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon have recorded multi-point games in each of Colorado's last six contests. They each have a league-high 14 outings with more than one point this season.

Since 1988-89, only two other pairs of teammates have recorded simultaneous streaks of multi-point games in more than six contests (Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls; nine games in 1988-89 and Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens; 8 games in 1992-93).

MacKinnon and Rantanen's stretch of multi-point performances in six-straight games matches the Colorado record for consecutive multi-point outings. An Avalanche skater has completed the task four times, with the last time coming in 1999-00 when Joe Sakic did it.

Video: Nathan MacKinnon after the win vs. Pittsburgh

Rantanen now has 42 points on the season (10 goals, 32 assists) and MacKinnon has 41 (18 goals, 23 assists), the most points through the first 25 team games of the season in Avalanche history. The previous mark was set by Sakic and Peter Forsberg in 1995-96 when each had 37 points.

MacKinnon had four points (one goal, three assists) in the win against Pittsburgh, the sixth time this season he's registered three or more points and his first four-point night of the campaign. It's the fourth time in MacKinnon's career that he's tallied four or more points in a game.

MORE ON THE TOP LINE: Colorado's top line of Gabriel Landeskog (28 points), MacKinnon (41 points) and Rantanen (42 points) have combined for 111 points this season, the most of any trio through 25 games since 2005-06.

Video: PIT@COL: Landeskog pinballs one home for the lead

"Those three guys, their expectations and wanting to win and wanting to be top players in the world, I think that these guys are hungry to achieve all of that," Bednar said of the trio. "I don't think you can put it on one guy. I think they bring out the best in one another, but they push one another too.

"They are not necessarily easy on one another all the time either, they are trying to make sure that all three guys have their best every night. There is an internal competition and an internal push for one another to be good because they all want to have success and all three of them have to be good every night if they are going to have success."

Landeskog's third-period goal, assisted by MacKinnon and Rantanen, marked the 14th time this season that all three forwards have recorded points on the same goal.

The tally stood as the game-winner, Landeskog's fifth of the campaign and moves him into a tie for first in the league in the category with Tampa Bay's Yanni Gourde. Landeskog's marker was also his 15th of the season, and he's now tied for ninth among all skaters in goals.

ROLLING RIGHT ALONG: The Avalanche extended its win streak to a season-long six games with the victory tonight. The team is now 8-0-1 over its last nine outings.

The victory also marked the 1,400th regular-season win as a franchise, 497 of those coming with the Quebec Nordiques and 903 as the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado's 15-6-4 (34 points) mark equals its fourth best record after 25 games in Avalanche/Nordiques history.

TYSON BARRIE UPDATE: Tyson Barrie missed his second game of the season against Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury.

"I would say he will get evaluated again tomorrow and get some treatment, and we'll see about Friday," Bednar said of Barrie. "Probably, doubtful, whatever term you want to use there. I'm hoping he'll be ready to go on the road, for sure. I don't know, Friday might be a stretch."

Barrie ranks first among Colorado blueliners in assists (17) and points (20), both of which rank among the NHL's top 10 defensemen.

MORE FUN NOTES: Colin Wilson notched his seventh goal of the season, his most in a campaign since 2016-17 (12) with Nashville.

Philipp Grubauer is 6-0-2 over his last eight appearances.

Nikita Zadorov registered a season-high eight hits, his most since March 22, 2018 versus Los Angeles (15, franchise record).

The Avs have scored six empty-net goals this season, tied for fifth in the league.

Colorado scored three goals in the third period and now has a league-high 39 markers in the final frame.

The Avalanche has scored six or more goals in six games this season, more than any other team in the league. Colorado's 95 total goals in 2018-19 ranks first in the NHL, as does its 3.80 goals-per-game average.

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