__________________ Pens Perfect at Home, Avs Unbeaten on Road

Colorado (7-1, 4-0 road) at Penguins (7-1, 5-0 home), CONSOL, 7:30 PM
by John Toperzer

Good thing Ben Lovejoy doesn’t play for the Penguins anymore — Avs’ coach Patrick Roy might have a conniption, like he did against Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks.

Colorado’s season-opening 6-1 win over the Ducks set the tone for the year. The Avs have won six of their first seven contests and feature the same strong record as do the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams also boast no. 1 overall draft picks hailing from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Nathan MacKinnon is off to a strong start with a goal and six assists. Of course, Sidney Crosby, who is eight years older than MacKinnon, leads the NHL with 17 points (7G, 10A).

Centerman Matt Duchene paces Colorado with six goals and nine points. PA Parenteau, in his second year with the Avs after playing for the Islanders, has seven points (3G, 4A) in seven games.

Duchene, along with Paul Stastny, take most of the draws for the Avs. With an 81-61 mark inside the dot, Duchene holds a 57 percent win rate. Stastny, whose offensive production has fallen off in recent years, checks in with 53 percent rate on a team-leading 152 faceoffs.

Not surprisingly, an old Atlantic Division er Metropolitan foe leads Colorado in penalty minutes. Former Philadelphia Flyer Steve Downie, who missed most of 2012-13, has already racked up 34 PIMs. Downie also has five points (1G, 4A) and has scored six goals and nine points in 16 career contests versus Pittsburgh. Oh yeah, he’s collected 54 penalty minutes against the Pens, too.

The 2011 second-overall pick, Gabriel Landeskog, is tied with Duchene in registered shots for the Avs with 25. Landeskog (2G, 3A) is battling back after a somewhat difficult sophomore season in the NHL.

The Colorado goalies have stood on their collective heads in 2013-14. Former Caps netminder, Semyon Varlamov, has compiled a 5-1 mark with a 1.68 GAA and .950 save percentage. Backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is expected to start Monday night, has won both of his outings, recording a 1.00 GAA and .971 save percentage and a shutout.

img_6225.jpg Olli Maatta sticking around

Rookie defenseman, Olli Maatta, became big news over the weekend in Pittsburgh. Sources say that Maatta will continue his good blue line work in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. The 19-year-old Finnish product has a goal and three points in eight games. He’s shown maturity beyond his years and his two-way game has worked well when paired with Robert Bortuzzo. There’s still a chance the Pens could return him to OHL London before his 40th NHL game to keep him a full year away from unrestricted free agency, but for now, at least, he’s safe.

Because of a sterling 7-1 record, it’s easy to forget the Pens are missing two top-six forwards and a Norris Trophy finalist.

James Neal hasn’t played since the opener. A torn muscle around the rib cage has him sidelined, according to a trusted source. Beau Bennett missed all of last week with a lower-body injury. He did skate in full gear recently and could return soon.

Kris Letang, meanwhile, has looked good skating in practice and should also return to action soon.

The line of Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis has combined for 36 points and a plus-19 rating through eight games. As always, health will determine the heights this line can achieve. Dupuis took a hard check along the boards Saturday by Vancouver’s Zack Kassian. He stayed down momentarily, looked for a penalty, but none was called.

Crosby is playing at, well, a Crosby-like level. Not even 10 percent of the season is in the books, but thoughts of new career highs have become realistic possibilities.

The Nova Scotia native totaled 120 points in 79 games during his second NHL campaign. He’s on pace for an absurd 174 points, but even if he cools he could still set personal highs across the board.

Evgeni Malkin’s played his best hockey in the past few games. Malkin said after Saturday’s tilt (in which he connected for the game-deciding shootout) that he’s still not 100 percent. Fortunately, the English-as-a-second-language translation of that comment means that his game isn’t yet clicking on all cylinders — he has no physical injury to speak of.

Marc-Andre Fleury made a Fleuryian-like gaffe on the Canucks’ first goal Saturday, but other than that the tender has been money in the bank. A 7-0 record, 1.84 GAA and .930 save percentage accurately reflect his game.

The attention to detail from a defensive standpoint has also been impressive. How much of that is due to the addition of veteran NHL coach, Jacques Martin, might not be totally quantifiable, but his presence is notable. The fact that Pittsburgh is even paying attention to defense with a left-wing lock is an improvement over the past couple seasons.


Pens-Canucks: By The Numbers

Goals For/Against Per Game

Pens: 3.75 /2.38
Avs: 3.38 /1.50

The Penguins rank second in the league behind San Jose (4.88) in goals scored per game. Colorado allows the second fewest.

5-On-5 Play

Pens:  1.36
Avs: 1.78

A team with a 1.00 rating would both score and allow the same number of goals, so the higher the number over 1.00 the better. The Avs’ mark of 1.78 is likely unsustainable, but shows how well they’ve played.

Power Play

Pens: 30.8 percent (4-for-13) home
Avs: 23.1 percent (3-for-13) road

Pittsburgh is tied for the second-best power play. Remember, this is for the PP at home, not overall.

Power-Play Time

Pens: 38:42 minutes in eight games
Avs: 50:03 minutes in eight games

The Pens rank 27th in power-play time, an unusually low number. The Avs, by comparision sit at 16th.

Total Power Play vs. Penalty Kill Time

Pens: +2:49, 19:24 PP time – 16:35 PK time (home)
Avs: +2:59, 22:59 PP time – 20:00 PK time (road)

This stat shows a more complete picture of special teams play than the PP numbers alone do.

Penalty Kill

Pens: 100 percent (10-for-10) home
Avs: 100 percent (10-for-10) road

These numbers are not typos and speak for themselves. Great efforts by both teams thus far.

Goals (For — Allowed) By Period (1st/2nd/3rd/OT)

Pens: 9/8/13/0 — 4/9/6/0
Avs: 9/11/7/0 — 3/4/5/0

Opponents are outscoring the Pens in the second period, 9-8, but Pittsburgh has a 13-6 advantage in the third. Colorado’s best 20 minutes is period 2 (11-4) so it will be interesting to see what happens in the middle frame Monday night.

Shots For/Against Per Game

Pens: 31.1 for/27 against
Avs: 31 for/33.8 against

Unusual to see a 7-1 team getting outshot like the Avs.

Penalty Minutes/Game

Pens: 9.6 PIMs
Avs: 15.1 PIMs

Pittsburgh could find itself on the man advantage later tonight.

Hits–Blocks–Missed Shots–Giveaways–Takeaways

Pens: 144 hits, 92 blocks, 45 missed shots, 26 giveaways, 28 takeaways (home)
Avs: 119 hits, 63 blocks, 32 missed shots, 32 giveaways, 15 takeaways (away)

Tanner Glass has been a hitting machine with 36 hits, Brooks Orpik leads with 21 blocks. Malkin leads the Pens with six takeaways but has four giveaways.


Pens: 54.6 percent, (273W-227L)
Avs: 49.6 percent, (250W-254L)

It’s Crosby against Duchene and Stastny. Advantage Crosby at home as he gets to put the stick down last.


Penguins Interviews

Dan Bylsma

Sidney Crosby


Links ‘n At

Penguins notebook: Nova Scotia natives Crosby, MacKinnon to square off, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Penguins’ Crosby skeptical of maintaining torrid pace, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Penguins notebook: Letang close to return, but no target date, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Olli Maatta makes the Penguins, from Hockey Buzz.


Treasure Life!

Updated Penguins Interviews

Dan Bylsma

Sidney Crosby

Pascal Dupuis

Jussi Jokinen

Olli Maatta

Chuck Kobasew


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