Penguins' next opponent off to rock-solid start

Surely someone, somewhere predicted that Colorado would win seven of its first eight games this season.

Maybe a person with an exceptional feel for the Avalanche's personnel, and how first-year coach Patrick Roy would be able to coax so much out of his players, so quickly.

Or, more likely, the hopelessly delusional president of an Avalanche fan club.

Mind you, predicting great things eventually for Colorado, which will face the Penguins at 7:38 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center, wasn't the tough part. Not when so much outstanding young talent has turned up in Denver during the past few years.

But after the Avalanche sat out the playoffs in each of the past three springs, all the people who expected a 7-1 start could have fit comfortably into a penalty box, with plenty of room to stretch out.

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    Penguins vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

  • TV, Radio:

    Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).

  • Probable goaltenders:

    Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Avalanche.

  • Penguins:

    Are 5-0 at home for first time since starting 1994-95 season with seven victories at Civic Arena. ... RW Chuck Kobasew does not have an assist in his past 18 games. ... Have scored 31 goals, their most in the first eight games since getting 36 in 1995-96.

  • Avalanche:

    Is 4-0 on road, including a 4-2 victory Saturday at Buffalo. ... C Matt Duchene has five goals in past five games. ... Has been outshot in five of its eight games, but won all five.

  • Hidden stat:

    Penguins C Sidney Crosby has three or more points in three of the first eight games.

"I didn't anticipate anything at all, to be honest with you," Roy said after Colorado's practice Sunday at Consol Energy Center. "We just wanted to go out there every day and play the best we can, and here we are, 7-1.

"We're certainly very happy with the results so far, but we know it's just the start of the season."

A fair point. The 1986-87 Penguins, for example, started 7-0, but still finished a few time zones removed from a playoff berth.

Still, there appears to be nothing fluky about Colorado's early season surge. Consider:

• Colorado is scoring an average of 3.38 goals per game, fourth-most in the NHL, while allowing just 1.5, second-lowest figure in the league.

• The Avalanche's power play is converting 24.1 percent of its chances to rank seventh in the league and its penalty-killing placed fourth at 87.5 percent.

• All 20 skaters who have appeared in an Avalanche game own a positive plus-minus rating.

"We've had great goaltending," Roy said. "Both goalies [Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere] have been outstanding for us.

"Our defense has played some solid hockey for us and our forwards have been making a big commitment on back-checking."

Colorado's defense was supposed to be its most vulnerable area, but that hasn't been an issue so far.

Up front, where the Avalanche has assembled a stable of young thoroughbreds headlined by Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon -- the No. 1 overall choice in the 2013 draft -- the only uncertainty has been about just how productive the group can become.

"Duchene is a great young player," said Penguins right winger Chuck Kobasew, who spent the past two seasons in Colorado. "You see him on the highlights, but I don't think he gets a lot of the recognition that a [similar] guy would get if he was playing in a Toronto or a Montreal."

Still, much of the focus tonight will be on MacKinnon and Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who hail from the same hometown, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

MacKinnon has seven points in eight games, leaving him a full 10 behind Crosby in the NHL scoring race, but he's had an impressive impact in his first few weeks as a pro.

"He obviously skates really well," Crosby said. "I don't think you see too many young guys who can shoot the puck like he can in their first year. He's got a great shot.

"He has all the tools. Really good hands. He works hard. He's not afraid to go into traffic areas and create chances that way."

Colorado bypassed Denver native Seth Jones, an exceptional young defenseman, to draft MacKinnon and appears to have no misgivings over its decision.

"We're extremely happy with him," Roy said.

As the team is with Roy, a Hall of Fame goaltender who many regard as the individual most responsible the Avalanche's early success.

"He's a teacher," said Hopewell native Nate Guenin, a Colorado defenseman. "He's a very, very smart guy and he's passionate. You can see that in whatever he does.

"He's direct and to the point, and he has a way of making guys believe in each other and believe in themselves."

As that 7-1 record proves.


Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?