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At the Rink: Penguins at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche right wing Nathan MacKinnon and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby are good friends who train together in the Halifax area during the summer. They'll play against each other at Pepsi Center for the first time Wednesday.

Neither scored Dec. 18 in Pittsburgh when the Penguins (36-17-9) outshot the Avalanche (27-25-11) 48-29 and won 1-0 in overtime. MacKinnon had six shots on goal; Crosby three.

"I know how good he is and what he can do out there," said Crosby, who hasn't played in Denver since Jan. 10, 2009 because of injuries or scheduling. "I'm not sure if we'll be matched up against one another or not, but there's always a little bit of competition there, I think."

MacKinnon was born in Halifax and grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which he said is "right across the street from" Cole Harbour, Crosby's hometown.

"It's fun playing against him," MacKinnon said. "We always want to beat each other for sure. It's going to be tough to stop him. We have to play very sound and tight."

It has been a difficult week for MacKinnon. He was benched for the third period, overtime, and shootout Friday in Colorado's 5-4 win against the Dallas Stars, and sustained a broken nose Saturday in a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild after being demoted to the third and fourth lines. He lost his live-in family in Denver when Maxime Talbot was traded Monday to the Boston Bruins. Talbot, his wife and their infant son left for Boston on Tuesday.

"Home alone," MacKinnon said. "Max is such a good guy, it was really tough to see him go and I'm going to miss him."

MacKinnon will be back with his regular linemates, left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Ryan O'Reilly, against the Penguins. Jordan Caron, who was acquired from the Bruins, will play left wing with center Matt Duchene and right wing Jarome Iginla.

"It's fun playing with offensive players like this," Caron said. "It's good for the confidence. I think it'll be a good line to play with."

Crosby said he expects a fast-paced game between free-wheeling teams that like to skate and create offensive chances.

"In the past I remember the games being pretty up and down, not necessarily with a ton of scoring," he said. "It's been kind of weird the way it's worked out where we've had 1-0 and 2-1 games, but it wasn't for a lack of scoring chances. We want to make sure that we limit them, but when two teams play a similar style like that, usually you get a pretty good brand on the ice, some good skill up and back."

Avalanche left wing Alex Tanguay will be honored in a pregame ceremony before playing in his 1,000th NHL game.

Here are the projected lineups:

PENGUINS

David Perron - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Blake Comeau

Daniel Winnik - Brandon Sutter - Steve Downie

Nick Spaling - Maxim Lapierre - Beau Bennett

Paul Martin - Kris Letang

Derrick Pouliot - Ben Lovejoy

Rob Scuderi - Ian Cole

Marc-Andre Fleury

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Craig Adams

Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion), Olli Maatta (upper body)

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Jordan Caron - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Joey Hishon - Marc-Andre Cliche

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Daniel Briere

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Lovejoy and Cole will be in the Penguins lineup following their trades from the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues, respectively. Lovejoy will be paired with Pouliot and Cole with Scuderi. ... Hishon will make his regular-season NHL debut after being recalled Monday from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. He played in three Stanley Cup Playoff games against the Minnesota Wild in May.

Who's hot: Malkin has five goals and six assists over a five-game points streak. ... Hornqvist has four goals and two assists in a four-game streak. ... Crosby has one goal and five assists in a four-game streak. ... Landeskog has six goals and three assists in the past nine games.

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