Pens, Avs square off in battle of early division leaders

( - It's not a surprise that Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are atop the Eastern Conference, though the Colorado Avalanche's surge to the top portion of the Western Conference standings remains a bit of a surprise.

The two division leaders square off on Monday night, when the Pens put their perfect home record on the line versus the Avalanche.

Both the Pens and Avs have gotten off to a 7-1 start, with Pittsburgh's 14 points putting them atop the East. Colorado is first in the Central Division and point behind San Jose for the most in the West.

Crosby is already in MVP form, leading the NHL with 17 points while notching at least one point in all eight games, the longest stretch of his career to begin a season. He has seven goals and 10 assists overall and 12 points in his last four games.

Both Crosby and Chris Kunitz had a goal and two assists in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver, while Olli Maatta notched his first career goal. It was a big one as he scored 28 seconds after Vancouver had taken a 3-2 lead.

Evgeni Malkin scored in the third round of the shootout and Marc-Andre Fleury made 36 saves in Pittsburgh's fourth straight win.

"Today wasn't our best game, but (Fleury) shut the door when we needed him to and we found some ways to get back in the game and get a big goal from (Malkin) in the shootout," Crosby said.

Malkin has logged eight points over a six-game point streak, helping the Penguins win all five of their home games this season. They are off to their best start at home since opening the 1994-95 campaign 7-0 at the Civic Arena.

The Pens play the middle test of a three-game homestand tonight looking to avoid their first loss to Colorado in Pittsburgh since Jan. 24, 2004. They have won three straight at home over the Avs since and four in a row in this series overall.

Colorado opened the season 6-0-0, one win shy of the best start in franchise history, before a home loss to Detroit on Thursday. The Avalanche rebounded with Saturday's 4-2 win over Buffalo, getting a goal from Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 28 saves, including 15 in the third period.

"We knew that they were going to be desperate," said Giguere. "They can still turn their season around and we wanted to come out with a strong effort against a team needing a win. I thought we did a good job."

Duchene netted his club-high sixth goal of the season and has a point in six of eight games this season for the Avs, who have won all four of their games on the road this season. That is tied for the club's second-best road start to a season, two back of the franchise-record 6-0 start in 2011-12.

Though Semyon Varlamov is 5-1-0 with a 1.68 goals against average on the season for the Avs, Giguere is expected to get another start tonight. He was won both of his games this season, stopping 67-of-69 shots faced, and is 3-4-1 in his career versus the Pens with a 2.62 GAA in eight meetings.

Fleury is 5-1-0 with a 2.52 goals against average lifetime versus the Avs.