Penguins notebook: Avalanche rookie having Crosby-like season

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

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DENVER -- Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, produced the No. 1 choice in the NHL draft twice in less than a decade.

A pretty remarkable feat for a relatively small town.

One of those players has gone on to be widely acclaimed as the finest player in the world.

The other is likely to accomplish something that the first couldn't.

With a week left in the regular season, Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

That's one of the few feats that has eluded Penguins center Sidney Crosby since he broke into the NHL in 2005-06. Washington winger Alex Ovechkin earned the Calder that season.

MacKinnon, the first player selected in 2013, is the leading scorer among NHL rookies, with 24 goals and 36 assists in 77 games before facing the Penguins Sunday night at Pepsi Center.

He certainly isn't the only first-year player having a strong season -- Tampa Bay teammates Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson and Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, among others, have made extremely impressive debuts -- but MacKinnon has drawn particularly rave reviews for his work.

Crosby, not surprisingly, declined to identify his choice for the Calder.

"[MacKinnon's] right there," he said. "I have to make sure I keep in mind that my teammate has had a pretty good year, too. ... I think those two guys are at the top of the list, for sure."

Rest strategy

Coach Dan Bylsma's decision to hold four regulars -- Crosby and linemate Chris Kunitz, along with defensemen Brooks Orpik and Maatta -- out of the Avalanche game is a pretty good indication that he strongly will consider resting other players in the final week of the regular season.

Bylsma said that none of those injuries appear to be serious, but it was clear he believes that some time off will serve those players well when the playoffs begin in the middle of the month.

"If you look at Brooks Orpik in this particular case, he's playing with an injury and it's not prudent to struggle through every game with the injury," Bylsma said. "Getting the opportunity to rest, not play in this game, is better for Brooks at this point in time."

Road well taken

Regardless of the outcome Sunday night, when the Penguins played their final away game of the regular season, their performance on the road in 2013-14 will go down as one of the best in franchise history.

They were 22-15-3 there before facing the Avalanche; the team record for away victories in a season is 24.

Blue-collar winger Tanner Glass believes the Penguins' play away from Consol Energy Center undermines some of the criticism that has been directed toward guys near the bottom of the depth chart.

"I know people get on our depth and our bottom-six [forwards], but our road record is a perfect example of having depth," Glass said.

"The other team gets the last change [during a stoppage in play] and can put their first line against the fourth if they want, can put their physical guys against your good players, so I think it's a testament to the depth on our team."

Debut game

Forward Adam Payerl made his NHL debut Sunday against the Avalanche after being called up from the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre.

Payerl, 23, is 6 feet 3, 218 pounds and had three goals and six assists in 38 games with the Baby Penguins.

He was signed as a free agent in 2012 and missed more than two months this season because of an unspecified injury.

Total conquest

Colorado's 4-0 victory Saturday in St. Louis made it the only team to defeat the other 29 clubs this season.

"That speaks for the quality of our year," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy told reporters. "We've played well against everybody, we've showed a lot of consistency all year long .

"We've been in playoff mode from the first day of the season. We knew we had to approach every game like a playoff game if we wanted to make the playoffs."

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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