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Mar 23, 2024 2:20 pm

Nathan MacKinnon, Avs aim to stay hot vs. Sidney Crosby-led Pens

Nathan MacKinnon

Cole Harbour has been good to the NHL the past 20 years, producing two No. 1 overall draft picks who have lived up to their expectations.

Those two No. 1 picks from the Canadian community in Nova Scotia square off Sunday afternoon when Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Nathan MacKinnon’s Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

Crosby, the top pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, has led Pittsburgh to three Stanley Cup championships and is a two-time Hart Trophy winner as the NHL MVP. He has passed on his knowledge to MacKinnon, who went No. 1 overall to Colorado in 2013 and is a strong candidate to win the Hart Trophy this season.

While they are rivals on the ice, they are good friends and workout partners in the offseason. Crosby has helped MacKinnon develop into one of the best players in the NHL.

MacKinnon is second in the NHL with 119 points and is currently on a 17-game point streak. He also has notched at least one point in all 33 home games this season to tie Wayne Gretzky for the second-longest streak to open a season in league history.

Gretzky holds the record for the longest such point streak at 40 games, set in 1988-89.

More importantly for MacKinnon, he has the Avalanche (45-20-5, 95 points) playing at a high level. Colorado has won eight in a row, 10 of its last 11 and swept a four-game road trip before beating Columbus 6-1 on Friday night.

The Avalanche have moved into contention for the top seed in the Western Conference with 12 games remaining, and eight of those are at home where they are 27-6-0.

“A lot of guys are feeling good about their game now. I would say everybody,” said Mikko Rantanen, who has 39 goals and a career-best 57 assists this season. “So we’re just trying to ride the streak now and keep it going.”

While Colorado is a strong contender to win its second Stanley Cup title in three seasons, the Penguins (30-30-9, 69 points) are headed to a second straight season without reaching the playoffs. Pittsburgh won back-to-back titles in 2016-17 but is not close to those glory days.

Since riding a three-game winning streak in late February, the Penguins are 3-9-1 and far out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They have lost the first two games of a road trip that ends Sunday, including a 4-2 loss at Dallas on Friday.

Pittsburgh’s biggest stars and the forces behind winning consecutive Stanley Cups, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, at 36 and 37 years old, respectively, are on the tail end of their careers but there is some talent on the roster. Valtteri Puustinen has just four goals and 12 assists in 39 games this season but he has shown he can compete at this level.

“The biggest thing is his own confidence,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “That he believes he can play in this league and he’s an NHL player. And he’s proven that.”

–Field Level Media

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