Oct 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) handles the puck as Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) defends during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Colorado Avalanche won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What We Learned: Avalanche - Penguins

That was something, wasn’t it?

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, nor was it anything close to the best effort the Avalanche have had this year, but here they are. Did anyone think they’d have an 8-1-0 start with shutout wins over the Bruins and Penguins? Put your hand down, liar.

There’s quite a bit to cover as this one was busy despite the lack of scoring, so let’s get into it and see what we learned from Monday night’s 1-0 road victory.

This Game Wasn’t As Bad As The Stats Say

There are a few things that jump out immediately when you look at the stat sheet: the Penguins outshot the Avalanche 34-14. That’s a huge, HUGE difference and most teams don’t win games when they only get 14 shots and/or are outshot by 20. But here we are.

Oct 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (middle) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) as defenseman Cory Sarich (16) defends third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Colorado Avalanche won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The other thing that jumps out? The “0/7” next to Pittsburgh in the power play category. It’s hard to get much traction in the game when you’re spending half of it in the penalty box and they spent half of the first (almost; it was eight minutes) there. No wonder they were outshot so badly in that period.

Watching the game, though, you could see the Avs really start to push the tempo about midway through the second period, using their speed and aggression to create more possession in the Pittsburgh zone. They also had their chances in the third, but managed just five shots thanks to solid defensive play and a few blocked shots from the Pens.

This wasn’t the Avs’ best effort; no way, no how. They were sloppy enough to accrue seven penalties and JS Giguere had to make a couple of big saves, but it wasn’t nearly as lop-sided as it seemed.

Get Giggy

All that said about the game not being as one-sided as it looked aside, Giguere was incredible again. He got the start earlier in the season against a Cup contender in the Boston Bruins and shut them out with a sterling performance. This was every bit as good.

He stopped all 34 shots and kept the Avalanche in the game by being their best penalty killer. He was outstanding from start to finish, looked poised and calm throughout, and stole this one for the Avs.

It’s impossible to expect him to have this kind of performance each time he steps on the ice, but it’s nice to know that the Avalanche can give Semyon Varlamov some additional rest and let him focus on playing his nards off every game.

Good teams have good goaltending and right now, the Avalanche have some of the best goaltending in the game.

Your Second Star…

All that fawning over Giguere aside, the penalty kill was the second biggest reason that the Avalanche didn’t get blown out, let alone won the game.

The team had four penalties in the first period (three in the first 10 minutes), killing them all off. Having a start like that and getting out of it tied 0-0 was just as huge as anything they could have done. They won that period by deflating the momentum created by those penalties and shutting down the high-powered Penguins.

Consider this: Sidney Crosby had almost 27 minutes of ice time. That’s “playoff defenseman” minutes. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t far behind him with 24:52 of TOI. They both had over 10:30 in power play time. They had almost as much power play time as Nathan MacKinnon had ice time. Read that again.

It would have been understandable for the Avalanche to give up a power play marker at the beginning of the third period (they started the period down a man for 1:52 and Erik Johnson went to the box at 3:40), but they shut the door and played a huge part in the win. Coming away with a win because your special teams put the opponent, with Crosby and Malkin, on lockdown is huge.

Kudos to this group as a whole. So many blocked shots, so much hustle.

Did You Know: Crosby and MacKinnon

Were you aware that Crosby and MacKinnon are from the same town in Nova Scotia? And that they are both first overall picks? That makes them exactly alike and worthy of constant comparison, right?

Jesus, NBC. There are other players. Lots of them are talented. But no, you had to beat to death the two similarities these guys have. And frankly, that’s where it ends. Crosby is an eight-year veteran, the best player in the world, and more accomplished than just about anyone. MacKinnon is 18-years-old and just starting his career. You cannot fairly compare the two.

Also: please gag Pierre McGuire. People all over North America are dying of alcohol poisoning from playing the Pierre McGuire drinking game. THINK OF THE PEOPLE.

Next up: 10/25 vs Carolina 

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Evgeni Malkin Gabriel Landeskog Nathan MacKinnon NHL Pittsburgh Penguins Sideny Crosby

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