By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – Colorado Avalanche first-year head coach – and Hall of Fame NHL goaltender – Patrick Roy wants his team to surprise the world of hockey.
At 8-1, the Avalanche are doing just that, and Monday night, they shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was spectacular, stopping all 34 shots faced for his second shutout of the season to help the Avalanche deal the Penguins their first home loss of the year, 1-0, at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“I just felt good, and sometimes everything comes together,” Giguere said. “The puck seems to hit you, and sometimes you get lucky, I won’t lie. My only purpose is to give the team a chance and it worked out for me tonight.”
Gabriel Landeskog’s third goal of the season, and second in as many games, turned out to be the only one the Avalanche needed, helping Colorado win its fifth straight game on the road to remain unbeaten away from home. Colorado, after finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference during the lockout-shortened season, is off to a hot start, allowing just 12 goals in nine games.
“I would’ve believed being over .500, but maybe not 8-1,” Giguere said. “It’s a new season, a new attitude, and a lot more positive.”
The Penguins outshot the Avalanche by a two-to-one-margin, 34-15, and had seven power play opportunities, but Giguere was the difference. The Avalanche went the first 13 minutes of the game without a shot, and recorded their first shot of the third more than 12 minutes into the final period.
“Every win is important, but this is very special,” Roy said. “Not very often are you going to win in Pittsburgh, giving up seven power plays. Your goalie needs to be your best player in those situations and (Giguere) was our best player.”
Giguere was sharp throughout, particularly during the Penguins’ power-play chances. His finest stop, perhaps, came with seven minutes left in the third when Giguere made a swiping glove save on Penguins’ forward Chris Kunitz from in the slot after taking a deft saucer pass from Sidney Crosby during a two-on-one.
“We would’ve liked to have found a way to get by him,” Crosby said. “Obviously, it’s tough when they don’t go in like that. We did a lot of good things and probably deserved better, but that’s how this game works sometimes.”
Crosby, who leads the league with 17 points, was kept off the score sheet for the first time this season, breaking an eight-game point scoring streak, a career-best for the Penguins’ captain to start the season.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is also off to the best start of his career, lost for the first time this season, turning aside 14 shots as the Penguins saw their four-game win streak come to an end.
The Penguins were off to their best start since winning nine of their first 10 games in 2009, and their best home start in almost two decades before running into Giguere. Their normally reliable power play, which scored in three straight home games entering Monday, was shut out thanks in large part to Giguere.
“Luckily, my legs felt good today, and I felt on my toes,” Giguere said. “I felt ready, and I don’t know if it’s going to keep going, but I’ll take it.”
It was Giguere’s second career shutout against Pittsburgh, the last one coming in 2002 when the veteran 36-year-old goaltender played for Anaheim. The Avalanche helped, putting bodies in front of Giguere and blocking 22 shots.
“Giguere did a pretty amazing job, but they had guys that paid the price blocking shots,” Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We had some looks, we just couldn’t get to the net because there were bodies in front.”
The Penguins were blanked for the first time in the regular season since Feb. 1, 2012 at Toronto, and the first time at home since March 25, 2011. It was also the first time the Colorado or Quebec franchise shut out the Penguins in 33 years.
“Giguere made some big saves,” Crosby said. “We have to give him credit. We had some good chances, and he made the saves.”
Giguere’s night overshadowed the showdown between Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia natives Crosby and Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon, both former No. 1 overall picks, who met for the first time Monday.
MacKinnon, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, has a goal and a team-best six assists this season, and is regularly compared to Crosby, his counterpart from Cole Harbor. Both attended prep school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota prior to highly-successful two-year runs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Giguere also has history in Cole Harbor, living there when he played for the Halifax Mooseheads of the then-Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I’m part of the Cole Harbor gang too,” Giguere said.
Giguere kept the game scoreless early, denying a sharp Crosby one-timer from the right-wing circle and several other quality opportunities, as the Penguins were unable to cash in on four first-period power plays, including three that came in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Colorado, meanwhile was unable to register a shot on goal for the first 13 minutes of the game as Pittsburgh tallied the first eight shots and outshot the Avalanche 11-4 during a scoreless opening period.
Landeskog scored the only goal of the game at 14:34 of the second period, moments after the Penguins fifth power play expired.
Landeskog, on an odd-man rush, fired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle that changed direction past Fleury after hitting the sticks of a backchecking Brandon Sutter and Penguins’ defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta played his ninth game with the team, so now the Penguins must decide to keep him, allowing his entry-level contract to kick in, or to send him back to his junior team. Bylsma said the impending return of Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang will play a part in the decision.
“He’s played in nine games, not as a trial run,” Bylsma said. “He’s played well and he’s earned the right to play in every one of those games. He made it a tough decision. We’ll have three days to make a full evaluation of the situation and decide what that will be.”
NOTES: The Penguins will play five of their next seven and nine of the next 14 against Metropolitan Division opponents… Pittsburgh’s loss snaps a seven-game win streak against Western Conference opponents, the last loss coming Feb. 15, 2012… The Penguins are 20-3 in their last 23 game at Consol Energy Center…The Penguins killed three penalties and are a perfect 13-of-13 at home, killing 37 straight home penalties dating back to last season.