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October 21, 2013

NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE: MacKinnon, Avalanche top Crosby, Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby left little doubt about who remains the best player from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

That’s fine by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche. At the moment, they’ll settle for one of the best records in the NHL.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere turned aside 34 shots and the surprising Avalanche edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 on Monday night to improve to 8-1 on the young season.

“It’s a new season, new attitude,” Giguere said. “I would have believed being over .500 (early) but not 8-1.”

Believe it.

Gabriel Landeskog scored the game’s only goal 5:26 into the second period and Giguere made it stand to post his second shutout in 11 days.

The 36-year-old handled the Boston Bruins on the road on Oct. 10 and might have been even better against the Penguins.

It helps to have a coach who knows a thing or two about keeping the puck out of the net.

Hall of Famer Patrick Roy is thriving in his first season on the bench and his young team — along with its not-so-young backup goaltender — is thriving. The Avalanche have allowed just 12 goals in nine games.

“Yes, our goaltenders have been outstanding (and) everybody is talking about our team,” Roy said. “Everyone is part of our success right now. It’s a 23-man story.”

The first professional meeting between MacKinnon and Crosby failed to produce fireworks, not that Crosby didn’t try. He pumped a season-high seven shots at Giguere and played more than 26 minutes.

MacKinnon, by comparison, produced two shots in 10:54 of ice time as the Avalanche spent a large portion of the night relying on their penalty killers. Pittsburgh went 0 for 7 on the power play, generating numerous scoring chances but not a goal.

“We did a lot of good things and probably deserved better,” Crosby said. “That’s how the game works sometimes. Sometimes you don’t deserve them and you find a way to win and tonight we deserved better and didn’t find a way to win.”

MacKinnon spent most of his childhood growing up in Crosby’s considerable shadow in the town of about 25,000 hard against the Atlantic Ocean. He followed a similar path to the NHL, playing on the same junior team Crosby once starred for and showcasing prodigious talent as a playmaker.

Taken with the draft’s top pick nearly a decade after Crosby, MacKinnon has a goal and six assists through his first nine games, a pace not too far off the one Crosby set during his rookie season in 2005-06.

Crosby said before the game he’s hardly surprised at how well MacKinnon has fit in but the two brushed aside any talk of a battle for local bragging rights, perhaps because their arrivals into the NHL couldn’t be more different.

Unlike Crosby, whose presence almost single-handedly revitalized a sagging franchise, the 18-year-old MacKinnon is not viewed as a savior, but a piece of what is quickly becoming a compelling puzzle.

The Penguins dominated the early going, but had nothing to show for it as four power plays went to waste.

Buzzing Giguere constantly, Pittsburgh peppered the veteran from all angles. The 11-4 advantage in shots didn’t even include the dozen Giguere’s teammates blocked before they even made their way to the net.

Colorado steadied itself in the second period and caught a bit of a break when the puck made its way to Landeskog shortly after he exited the box after serving a hooking penalty.

He skated into the Pittsburgh zone and fired a wrist shot from the right circle that handcuffed Marc-Andre Fleury and sailed into the net for his third goal of the season.

“I couldn’t see it,” said Fleury, who finished with 13 saves. “The guy was going blocker side and (teammate Brandon Sutter) tried to get the puck going one way and it went the other way.”

It was enough to send the Penguins into the dressing room trailing at home after two periods for the first time this season.

The Avalanche felt comfortable enough with the lead to sit back and frustrate the Penguins.

It worked. Giguere was spectacular at times, no more so than when he robbed Chris Kunitz with a glove save at the end of a 2-on-1 break with less than 8 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh continued to press but Giguere never budged. Neither did the players in front of him on a night the Avalanche blocked 22 shots.

“You have to give them credit,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “They had more than Giguere get in the way tonight.”

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