Pittsburgh Penguins (19-9-0-36) vs. Colorado Avalanche (15-8-6-36)
Where: Mellon Arena When: Thursday, December 3, 7:30 p.m. Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9 TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576. *View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here() Season Series: Colorado and Pittsburgh meet for the only time in 2009-10. They squared off once last season, with the Avalanche securing a 5-3 victory at Pepsi Center on Jan. 10. David Jones led the way for Colorado with two goals and an assist, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each posted a goal and an assist.
The Big Three: The Big Three: A huge reason the Penguins have won seven of their past nine games is the way their young centers have dominated play as of late. Sidney Crosby was named NHL “First Star” for the week ending Nov. 29 and has five goals and three assists his past two games. Evgeni Malkin had a season-high six-game scoring streak (4G-4A) until going pointless Monday. Jordan Staal has quietly posted points in seven of his past nine games (2G-5A).
Roll Four Lines: Early in the season it seemed the Penguins were always the team having to play on consecutive nights while their opposition sat and watched the night before. The roles have changed as the Penguins had an off day Wednesday while Colorado visited the Florida Panthers. The fourth line of Craig Adams, Eric Godard and Chris Bourque has been great possessing the puck in the offensive zone as of late, and will be needed to do much of the same during the early periods to help wear down the Avalanche defense for the final 20 minutes, which the Penguins have owned as of late.
LOWDOWN ON THE AVALANCHE
The Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver for the 1995-96 season and became the Colorado Avalanche, beginning a run of success which saw the team win two Stanley Cups, eight-consecutive division championships and 10-straight years making the playoffs. Injuries and the aging of their core led to the team missing the postseason two of the past three seasons. Led by a young nucleus offensively and the stellar goaltending of free agent signee Craig Anderson, the Avalanche have been one of the better early-season stories in 2009-10, ranking second in the Northwest Division with a 15-8-5 record.
Colorado is led by rookie head coach Joe Sacco, who spent the previous two seasons as the bench boss for the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Erie Monsters. Sacco guided the team to a 34-38-8 record in ’08-09, an 11-point increase from his first season, the team’s inaugural campaign. Sacco played 738 NHL games over a 13-year career with Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia. He was an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2009 World Championships.
Four offseason acquisitions by first-year GM Greg Sherman have helped the Avalanche return to the elite of the Western Conference, including their top two selections from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Duchene ranks third (tied) among rookies with six goals while O’Reilly is tied with the New York Rangers Michael Del Zotto for third place among first-year players with 17 points (4G-13A) through Wednesday’s games.
At the opposite end of the rink, defenseman Kyle Quincey and netminder Craig Anderson have helped improve the team’s goals-against average. Quincey, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings with fellow defender Tom Preissing in exchange for Ryan Smyth, leads all Colorado players in ice time at 25:18 per game while pacing the team’s blueliners with 15 points (3G-12A) through Wednesday. Anderson ranks at the top of many statistical lists for goaltenders, as his 14 wins are seventh most in the NHL and his .921 save percentage ranks eighth (tied).
Joe Sakic’s offseason retirement has left the scoring department in the hands of the young nucleus the Avalanche have been building, and thus far the results have been more than the team expected. Paul Stastny (Read Player Spotlight below) has moved into the role of No. 1 centerman without a beat. He has combined with Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk to form an explosive first unit. Wolski and Hejduk, who is currently injured, are the two most-dynamic goal scorers on the Colorado roster, and each is effective cycling the puck in the offensive end. Wolski ranks second behind Stastny with 23 points (10G-13A) through Wednesday. Despite missing the past four games the former 50-goal scorer leads Colorado with 11 tallies.
Emerging power forward David Jones was just starting to come into his own with 10 goals in the first 23 games before he suffered a torn ACL. His absence combined with Hejduk missing time has given Marek Svatos another crack at playing top-six minutes. Svatos scored 32 times as a rookie in ’05-06 but has seen his ice time drop since then, as his 26 goals in ’07-08 is the only time he has broken the 15-goal barrier. Svatos has a heavy shot if he is left uncovered. Another winger who has taken advantage of the injrury situation is Chris Stewart, a first-round selection in 2006. Stewart recently joined the second line with Matt Duchene and Cody McLeod, and provides a physical presence at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds to complement his soft hands around the net. He has 12 points (2G-10A) in 23 games.
Rookies Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly have been better than advertised, each playing well beyond his years. Duchene had the first two-goal performance of his career on Monday night against Tampa Bay. At 18 years of age the third-overall selection in this past year’s draft has been a dependable penalty killer in addition to his scoring prowess. O’Reilly leads all rookies with 13 assists and ranks fifth (tied) among all players with a plus-13 rating. While Duchene was almost a lock to make the squad, O’Reilly might be one of the top surprises in the entire league after being selected 33rd overall in June.
Colorado has been able to put together a competent defensive core that is plenty effective at both ends of the rink. Kyle Quincey has emerged as the unit’s No. 1 defender in just his second full season. Unable to crack a loaded Detroit Red Wings defense, Quincey landed in Los Angeles last season, leading them with 38 points (4G-34A) from the blue line. He is capable of playing in all situations and has a healthy edge to his game. Jean-Michael Liles quarterbacks the power play for the Avalanche, posting nine points (2G-7A) in 16 games. Stronger in the offensive end than his own, Liles has scored 32 or more points in each of his first five seasons.
A trio of rugged defensive-minded presences helps to make life miserable for the opposition inside the Colorado zone. Brett Clark, in his sixth season with the Avalanche, leads the league with 84 blocked shots, 12 more than second place Jay McKee of the Penguins. Clark can also produce offensively, as evidenced by his 10 goals in ’06-07. Veteran Adam Foote is in his second tour of duty with Colorado after returning to the team at the trade deadline in ’07-08 after spending two-plus seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Foote was a key cog in Colorado’s two Stanley Cup championship squads. Scott Hannan took his share of criticism his first two seasons with the Avalanche after signing a megadeal to leave the San Jose Sharks. Not too many bad words are being spoken this season as he ranks second behind Quincey in ice time at 22:30 and his plus-9 rating leads all Colorado defenders. At 225 pounds, Hannan is one of the top body checkers among defensemen.
Unhappy with allowing an Avalanche franchise-high (tied) 257 goals last season, the team elected to go another direction between the pipes in ’09-10, signing former Florida Panther Craig Anderson to be the new go-to netminder, relegating Peter Budaj to a reserve role. The 28-year-old Anderson spent six years bouncing between the NHL and the AHL before establishing himself the past two seasons as the backup to Tomas Vokoun. Anderson played a career-high 31 games for Florida in ’08-09, going 15-7-5 with three shutouts, a 2.71 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. He has been a workhorse for Colorado, starting 26 of their first 29 games, including the first 15 games of the season.
Budaj, a fifth-year pro, had spent two of the last three years as the No. 1 netminer for Colorado but has ceded the position to Anderson this year. He led the Avalanche in wins a year ago with 20. Budaj won a career-high 31 times when he was also the starting goaltender in ’06-07. He is 1-1 with a 4.29 goals-against average and a .855 save percentage in three games this season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: PAUL STASTNY
It’s never easy being the son of a legend but Paul Stastny is bucking the trend. Playing for the same organization which his father, Peter, starred for many years when the team was located in Quebec, Stastny leads Colorado with 26 points (6G-20A) through their first 26 games. Stastny’s transformation to face of the franchise following Joe Sakic’s offseason retirement has allowed the Avalanche to come full circle, as Peter Stastny mentored a young Sakic, who later took Paul under his wing during his final three seasons.
One of the game’s underrated playmakers, Stastny has rebounded nicely after missing 37 games last season, first with a fractured forearm and later with a broken foot. A dual citizen who represents the United States in international competition and should be a member of Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Stastny has recorded point totals of 78 and 71 during his two full NHL campaigns. He finished second to Evgeni Malkin in the Calder Trophy race in 2006-07.
Colorado will be without a couple offensive contributors who have had success against the Penguins in the past. - David Jones, who scored twice against the Penguins last season and ranks second on the team with 10 tallies this year, is out four-to-six months after tearing his ACL. - Milan Hejduk is day-to-day with a knee injury. He sat out again Wednesday night at Florida. - Veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei has dressed only once this season with a back problem. - Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey is on injured reserve with a foot injury.
"THEY SAID IT"
"At the beginning of the season I had a ton of opportunities, and I don't think I was used to shooting on NHL goalies."
- Avalanche rookie Matt Duchene speaking to Yahoo! Sports after scoring twice against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
POINT OF INTEREST
6-0: Colorado’s record against the Eastern Conference prior to their matchup with Florida on Wednesday night.