Key Observations Heading Into Game 63 Between the Penguins and Avalanche

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The NHL trade deadline has officially passed as we can now move on. This is the 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins team we will see this postseason, whether you like it or not. The Penguins acquired defensemen Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy while giving up Simon Despres to Anaheim and Robert Bortuzzo to St. Louis. A seventh-round pick was also sent to the Blues in exchange for Cole. Not many people had an issue with the Cole-Bortuzzo trade, but many hot takes were out there regarding the Lovejoy-Despres trade. Despres, who had played well with Rob Scuderi this season probably was a bit of an over-payment for the 31-year old former Penguin. Despres played extremely well at the beginning of the year, but his play had been declining a bit recently. However, he is still young and could develop more in Anaheim just like Lovejoy did. It’s a little bit of a risk by Jim Rutherford, but in the end, I think the overall team is better. I might have kept Despres, but Lovejoy is not the same player he was when he first played in Pittsburgh.  Cole seems to have some nice upside as a former first-round pick too, which will make things interesting. Rutherford may have felt pressure to trade for Lovejoy and Cole since Christian Ehrhoff had more concussion symptoms, which held him out of Pittsburgh’s last game against Columbus. He did participate in yesterday’s practice at Southpointe as well as today’s practice, but it doesn’t look like he will be available to play tonight in Colorado. If Ehrhoff cannot play, then Cole and Lovejoy should be able to make their 2014-15 debuts with the Penguins. They both took in their first practice of the year with the team today. Lovejoy skated with Derrick Pouliot while Cole skated with Rob Scuderi. Speaking of Pouliot, how great has he looked of late? He was spectacular on Sunday against Columbus. In addition to scoring a goal, he played pretty well defensively too. Based on his upside and usage, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he has a chance to start in the playoffs this season. Having a guy like Lovejoy playing with him should benefit the young blue liner. Lovejoy played really well with Olympian Cam Fowler and knows what it takes to stay in the NHL after coming through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Forward Beau Bennett did not get traded at the deadline, but it looks like the Penguins will be sitting him tonight in favor of Craig Adams, who was a healthy scratch on Sunday. I’m wondering if we are going to continue to see these two players battle it out for that last spot on the fourth line. Mike Johnston could elect to keep switching them in and out depending on the match up. If the Penguins need to shut down an elite player such as Alex Ovechkin, then Johnston might want to use the defensive-minded Adams. However, if Pittsburgh is playing a young, fast team, Bennett might be more useful.

Getting away from trades and lineup news, the Penguins begin their four-game road trip on the West coast against the Avalanche (27-25-11) tonight. After being one of the biggest surprises last season, Patrick Roy’s team hasn’t been playing that well this year. Their 5-5 record in their last ten games has dropped them down to sixth place in the Central division. Regardless of their record though, the Penguins cannot take them lightly. Colorado has some great young talent in Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly. In addition to those players, the Avalanche also employs veterans such as Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. Many people questioned the Iginla signing in the offseason, but the former Penguins forward leads the Avalanche in goals (19) and points (42). Tanguay will play in his 1,000th NHL game tonight. Colorado doesn’t have a contender for the scoring race, but they do have depth up front. They have 8 players with at least 10 goals and 23 points. While MacKinnon, Duchene and Landeskog have had plenty of success early on in their careers, their numbers are a bit down this season, which has contributed to some slumps as a team. They’re not playing as well defensively this season either. They are in the bottom half of the league in goals for and goals against. After having a career season last year, goaltender Semyon Varlamov has a 19-17 record this season with a 2.69 goals-againast average. Varlamov is expected to make his 20th straight start tonight. Newly acquired Jordan Caron skated on a line with Duchene and Iginla during Colorado’s practice yesterday so he could play with them tonight in his Avalanche debut.

The Penguins beat the Avalanche 1-0 in their only meeting earlier this season on December 18, 2014 at CONSOL Energy Center. Blake Comeau scored the game winning goal in overtime while Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves to record a shutout.