Saturday, March 3, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Pittsburgh Penguins, 3/3/12

The Good Guys: Had a chance to join the big boys table on Thursday night with two points against Columbus, and proceeded to defecate all over themselves. There isn't one team in the NHL that's good enough to just show up and collect two points, and that goes double for a bubble playoff team with a salary cap floor payroll. If Colorado misses the playoffs by one or two points, this is going to be one of the games they look back on and grit their teeth.

Bunch Of Dicks: Pittsburgh strolls into Denver comfortably ensconced in a nice, velvety playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pens will be without Sidney Crosby, who continues to play dress-up in practice with his teammates, and perhaps their most important player, Kris Letang, also out with concussion-like symptoms. Not sure what "concussion-like" means. It's either A) a concussion, or B) not a concussion.

We Like: Four months later, and this is still the sexiest goal of the season.

We Don't Like: Not that the Avs typically get more than one or two power play opportunities per game anyway (which is another story entirely), but the fact that Joe Sacco continues to use his most handsy player, Matt Duchene, on the point rather than down low is just mind-boggling. I understand that Greg Sherman's nickel-and-dime roster doesn't have four true point men to man two power play units, but putting Duchene there is patching up a hole in the drywall with golden fleece. If Ryan Wilson or even Matt Hunwick has to play with Stefan Elliott on that point, then so be it. There's simply no reason not to have Duchene playing around the net.

Randomly: What are the chances that Steve Downie was prowling around the Penguins' team hotel today, looking to finish the job on Crosby?

Potential Hero: Since he came back from an early season groin injury in December, Erik Johnson has played like the defenseman he was expected to be since he was taken first overall by St. Louis in 2006. Johnson will likely be the difference between the Avs exiting tonight's game with zero points and one or two, as the American defenseman will be matched up head to head with Penguins cyborg Evgeni Malkin. Listen closely, and you can hear the Rocky IV theme playing softly in the background.

Potential Goat: By the same token, if Malkin is able to have his typical Gene Machine game, the onus will fall on the Avs scorers to keep pace. The top line of Duchene, Paul Stastny, and the slumping Milan Hejduk will need to support the Downie/O'Reilly/Landeskog unit that has carried the team for the past two weeks. Hejduk was replaced by Peter Mueller on that line during the discouraging loss to Columbus on Thursday, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that again tonight.

Final Thought: Dallas did their job last night, grinding out a 3-1 win over Edmonton. The Avs blew their chance to take two points from a weaker team, and now they have to beat a legitimate Stanley Cup contender to keep pace tonight.

Penguins 4, Avs 2

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