The Colorado Avalanche players know they will have their hands full defensively tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh enters this evening's game at Consol Energy Center with a 7-1-0 record and is averaging 3.75 goals per game, which ranks second in the league. The Penguins are led by their captain, Sidney Crosby, who has picked up points in each of the first eight games this season and leads the NHL in all three scoring categories (7 goals, 10 assists, 17 points).
Crosby picked six assists and eight points in his club's last three games to help him earn the NHL's second star of the week on Monday.
"You see his stats and you see how effective he is," said Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly of Crosby. "He never has a night off. He's always producing quality all the time and there are no weaknesses. You simply have to have a great game in order to beat him.
"It will be huge for us to not give him any chances. We have to play real disciplined with the puck."
However, Crosby isn't the whole story when it comes to the Penguins' offense. Chris Kunitz (10 points), Evgeni Malkin (9 points) and Pascal Dupuis (9 points) are also among Pittsburgh's top scoring leaders and 12 players on the team have scored at least one goal so far this season.
Defenseman Jan Hejda said one of the keys for Colorado will be to take away Pittsburgh's time and space.
"We can't give them any room on the ice, be close to them and not let them shoot," Hejda said.
While the Penguins' offense has been one of the best in the league in the early going, the Avalanche's offense has been equally as effective and has also helped the club to a 7-1-0 record as well.
Colorado ranks fifth in the league in goals per game at 3.38 and has 14 players on its roster that has scored at least once through the first eight games.
However, what might give the Avs a slight advantage tonight is that they roll out three very-effective scoring lines compared to the Pens' two (Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis, Jokinen-Malkin-Kobasew).
"I think we are really deep up front. This is our strength," Colorado right wing PA Parenteau said. "We have a lot of skill, lots of speed, and I think its been working for us so far. We are pretty hard to match in depth, we have four really good centerman, and we are deep down the middle. Guys are playing well, they are using their speed and that's why I think we've been hard to match so far."
For the Avalanche, it's been hard to pick which forward combination is the team's best group as the top three have all had good games. But if you consider speed, skill and grit, the Avs' scoring line of O'Reilly, Matt Duchene and Steve Downie probably takes the top spot. The group has 10 goals this season (20 points overall) and has picked up points in six of the eight games.
During training camp and the preseason, Duchene and O'Reilly really seemed to have a good chemistry with each other and that has continued into the regular season. The Avs' top two picks from the 2009 draft had assists on each other's goal in Saturday's 4-2 win over Buffalo.
"I think we are on a roll," O'Reilly said of playing with Duchene. "The last couple of games we have had some great opportunities and right on the doorstep there. That last game, Matt made that great pass to me [that ended in a goal], and he is so dangerous with his speed that he creates so much out there and its nice to play with. If we keep finding ways to put the puck in the net, we're going to be real successful."
Duchene leads the Avs with nine points (six goals, three assists) while O'Reilly has six points (three goals, three assists) and Downie has five points (one goal, four assists).
The Penguins, who made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, have been one of the best teams in the league for years now, and Parenteau said tonight's game will be a good measuring stick for how the Avalanche compares.
"They've been an elite team in this league for the last few years," Parenteau said. "They have some great players – Crosby, Malkin – but we can't look up to them. We have to go out there and battle and show them what we can do too. I think it's going to be a great match tonight. I think the fans are in for a treat."
AVALANCHE SPOTLIGHT ON: JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is expected to get his third start of the season and his second in as many games tonight for the Avalanche.
Giguere made 28 saves on Saturday in Buffalo, which included stopping 25 pucks in the final two periods. He sports a 2-0-0 record, a 1.00 goals-against average and a .971 save-percentage this season.
The Montreal, Quebec native's first win of the year came on Oct. 10 at Boston where he made 39 saves for his 37th career shutout. The 39 saves were the most-ever for Giguere in a regular-season shutout.
In eight career games versus Pittsburgh, the netminder has a 3-4-1 record, 2.62 goals-against average, a .903 save percentage and one shutout.
Giguere and Semyon Varlamov have been a dynamic duo so far for Colorado in net as they've combined for a 1.50 team goals-against average, second in the NHL behind only Boston (1.43). The 12 goals allowed by the Avs also rank second in the league and are tied for the fewest through eight games in franchise history.
MORE MORNING NOTES
-At 7-1-0, the Avs have equaled their best start through eight games in franchise history (in terms of both wins and points). Colorado opened the season 6-0, by far the club's best start since the team moved to Denver in 1995 and one shy of the franchise record (7-0 in 1985-86). The Avs are 4-0 on the road, tied for the second-longest road-winning streak to begin a season in franchise history.
-Tonight is the first of two meetings between the Avalanche and Penguins this year. The Pens will visit Denver for the Avalanche's final regular season home game on April 6. These two clubs last met during the 2011-12 season, with Pittsburgh winning both contests (6-3 on Nov. 15, 2011 at the CONSOL Energy Center and 5-1 on March 3, 2012 at Pepsi Center).
-The Avs tonight are facing their sixth Eastern Conference opponent out of the first nine games. In fact, Colorado will open the season by playing seven of its first 10 games versus the opposite conference. The Avs are 4-1-0 versus Eastern Conference teams this year, 4-0 on the road. -Colorado is 17-5-1 against Eastern Conference opponents since the start of the 2011-12 season, 37-15-7 since 2009-10 and 65-35-7 since 2005-06.
-Matt Duchene has tallied the game-winning goal in each of Colorado's last three victories and now leads the NHL in that category for the season. Duchene is the first Colorado player to be credited with the game-winning goal in each of three consecutive victories since Marek Svatos in November 2005.
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