The Pittsburgh Penguins (6-4-1) head into game 2 of a 4-game road trip on Thursday night with a stop in Denver to take on the streaking Colorado Avalanche (7-4-0). After notching a win against a depleted Wild on Tuesday, the Penguins will be looking to capitalize off the momentum gained in Minnesota to win their 2nd straight game and their 4th straight road game. They will have their work cut out for them as they take on the Avs, who have not yet lost a game at home this season.
Colorado is in the midst of a 3-game winning streak having beat Minnesota 3-1 on Sunday, and improved to 5-0-0 at the Pepsi Center for the first time since moving from Quebec in 1995. Avs’ Winger Ryan Smyth, acquired via free agency over the offseason, has 7-points (3G, 4A) in the last 4 home games and has been the spark behind Colorado’s red hot home start. Joe Sakic, who has 5-points (1G, 4A) in the last 5 games, has excelled against the Penguins on Avs’ ice. In 16 home games against the Pens dating back to 1989, Sakic has piled up 32-points (14G, 18A). Colorado is 7-2-0 with two ties against the Pens in its last 11 games in Colorado.
After being kept of the scoreboard in the season-opener in Carolina, Sidney Crosby has picked up at least 1-point in each of the 10 games since, with 17-points (5G, 12A). He’s tied with Daymond Langkow for 5th in the league in scoring, just 5 points behind NHL scoring leader Henrik Zetterberg. Sidney Crosby has played against Colorado just once in his career in Pittsburgh in Dec 2005. Crosby posted an assist in that game to help the Pens win 4-3. Evgeni Malkin, who trails Crosby by one with 16-points (5G, 11A), has been on fire of late accumulating 9-points (3G, 6A) in his last 4-games. With his 2 goals against the Wild on Tuesday, Malkin now has 101 career points in just 89 games. The only active player to reach 100 points quicker was Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who hit 100 points in just 77 games in 2005-06.
Dany Sabourin, who stopped 28 of 30 shots in the 4-2 win against the Wild on Tuesday, has gotten the nod from Coach Therrien to start against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. It will be Sabu’s 4th start of the season, but his first consecutive start. Sabourin is 2-0-1 with a 2.06 goals-against average. Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins #1 goaltender has struggled for consistency this season with a 5.99 GAA in his last two starts after giving up just 1 goal in 67 shots in the two prior games.
Penguins winger and man of steel Gary Roberts returned to the lineup against the Wild after missing Saturday’s game against Montreal due to an upper respiratory infection. Rookie callup Tyler Kennedy played another good game in terms of speed and intensity and is expected back in the lineup on Thursday in place of Georges Laraque (groin). Left wing Jarkko Ruutu and defenseman Alain Nasreddine were healthy scratches against the Wild. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Eric Christensen as a healthy scratch against the Avs.
Going head-to-head, the Avalanche have a slight advantage across the board except on the power play. The Avs have averaged 3.2 goals per game versus the Pens 3.0, and have given up 2.8 goals per game versus the Penguins 3.1. The Avs’ penalty kill has been slightly more effective at 85.7%, while the Penguins have kept 84% out of their net while undermanned. The Penguins power-play has been dangerous, scoring a goal in every game. The Pens are ranked 3rd overall in the league on the power play with a 24.6% effectuveness, while the Avs have struggled at 15.7%.
NHLPens.com Prediction: This is a tough one to call. The Avs are undefeated at home and have the numbers in their favor. The Pens on the other hand are arguably coming off the team’s best performance of the season against Minnesota, albeit a wounded Wild. The offense got rolling and the defense looked halfway decent for the first time this season. The Penguins will also be riding the glove of Dany Sabourin who has found consistency in his last 2 games. I anticipate that the Penguins will benefit from the team cohesion and focus of being on the road, and that coupled with their confidence building play of Tuesday will enable the team to come away with a squeeker of a win. I am predicting a 4-3 regulation win by the Pens. The most likely goal scorers for the Penguins include Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Maxime Talbot and Ryan Whitney.
Go Pens Go!