Giguère, young stars lead red-hot Avalanche over Penguins
Monday night featured a team on the rise, the Colorado Avalanche, against the NHL's most explosive squad, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both entered the contest with 7-1-0 records with the Avs 4-0-0 on the road and the Pens 5-0-0 at home. More than that, the game marked the first meeting between Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby and Colorado's young phenom Nathan MacKinnon, friends from different generations but the same hometown (Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia). In one of the marquee contests of the season's first month, vetern netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère made 34 saves to keep Crosby off the scoreboard as the Avs nipped the Pens, 1-0.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Patrick Roy's confidence in Jean-Sébastien Giguère is growing: Giguère was in goal when the Avs knocked off the Sabres in Buffalo two nights earlier. Though he had only played two games so far and is thought of as a backup to Semyon Varlamov, Roy likes Giguère and gave him consecutive starts. He has now stopped 101 of the 103 shots he has faced. At 36, Giguère has earned his stripes through the years. He had a losing record in six of his first seven NHL seasons before winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and then the Stanley Cup in separate campaigns with Anaheim. Giguère made a superb stop with seven minutes left in the third period when the Penguins attacked on a two-on-one. As Crosby led Chris Kunitz with the feather pass into the slot, Giguère anticipated the play and stacked his pads to cut the five hole and then snared a snap shot to turn back Kunitz, a point-plus-per-game man (62 in 56 games) including last season and this one. "You have to be in the zone when you play here," Giguère said. "Luckily for me I was lucky tonight." With Giguère in top form, Colorado has two good goaltenders to choose from during the season.
2. The Avalanche doesn't make life easy on itself: It's a sign of a young team. Colorado made several mental mistakes throughout the game, taking seven penalties and occasionally losing coverage in its defensive end. MacKinnon saw just 2:45 of ice time in the first period, largely because he twice let opposing forwards get away from him in his own zone. With the Avs often shorthanded early, coach Patrick Roy wasn't about to put him on the ice. Another gaffe occurred in the final minute of the second period when the Avs were called for too many men on the ice while on a power play, and they nearly had two too many. And less than four minutes into third period, Avs defenseman Erik Johnson had a chance to make a play instead of taking a penalty, but he was lucky to get away with just a boarding minor after drilling Penguins winger Chris Conner into the boards.
3. Nathan MacKinnon is human, but the Avs are more than their young star: So what if MacKinnon's shot 13:38 into the first period was Colorado's first of the game? The Avs blocked 22, making life easier on their goaltender. Defenseman Jan Hejda led the way with six blocks, but 12 Avs had at least one. (The Penguins blocked 11 as a team). After Pittsburgh failed to score on five straight power play opportunities through the first 25 minutes, Colorado answered on its next scoring chance -- doesn't it always work that way? -- when Gabriel Landeskog jumped out of the box where he was serving a minor penalty for hooking. Just eight seconds after his penalty ended, Landeskog sped down the right side and beat Marc-Andre Fleury under the Penguin goalie's glove. "We figured killing those penalties were going to give us some momentum," Roy said. MacKinnon failed to record a point and managed just two shots in 10:54 of playing time. When speaking about the Avs' phenom before the game, Crosby insisted, "He's going to get his (points) before you know it." How good could the Avalanche be when that happens?
4. Sidney Crosby is human, too: In four partial seasons -- two hampered by injury, one shortened by a lockout and one less than a month old -- Crosby has combined for some absurd stats: He entered Monday's contest with four straight multiple-point outings and totals of 62 goals, 114 assists and 176 points in 107 games. Crosby managed five shots during Monday's first period in which the Pens had four power plays. For the game, their captain amassed a season-high seven shots, but failed to record a point for the first time this season. Fellow gunner Evgeni Malkin led all skaters with eight shots on the night. Their combined total of 15 was one more than the Avalanche had as a team. Colorado also picked up on Pittsburgh's tendency to set up one-timers from the right side of the ice, and re-adjusted their penalty kill to make sure that they gave Giguère a chance to see those shots. Pittsburgh's power play can be deadly, but in a 1-2-2 configuration, it can also be predictable at times.
5. There is something in the water in Cole Harbour: Both Crosby and MacKinnon hail from the same town in Nova Scotia (pop. 25,000), three miles Southeast of Dartmouth, which is linked by the continent's oldest saltwater ferry boat to Halifax, which is Canada' No. 13 city. In other words, it isn't the size; it must be the water, especially since Cole Harbour is right at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Crosby trained with MacKinnon periodically during the off-season, and both players acknowledge that they have formed a friendship away from the ice. Two days after the 2013 draft, they were running sand dunes in the Canadian Maritimes. "It's going to be cool," MacKinnon said before the game. "He's the best player in the world." It wasn't too long ago when Crosby was being compared to other great players in the game, but perhaps now that a new generation of stars is emulating him, The Kid may need a new moniker. "It means I'm getting old," Crosby says.