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Penguins look to remain perfect, host Avalanche

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are 2-0-0 as they begin their defense of the Stanley Cup, and perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise.

If there's anything the Penguins know how to do - no matter the roster or the identity of the coach - it's how to follow up after winning a championship.

After beating the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh started out 9-1-0 in 2009-10. When captain Mario Lemieux's Penguins began their quest for a third straight Cup in 1992-93, they opened up with 11 wins and two ties in their first 14 games.

The current-day Penguins go for their third straight win at the newly renamed PPG Paints Arena on Monday night when they face the Colorado Avalanche (1-0). The Avalanche debuted under new coach Jared Bednar by beating the Dallas Stars, 6-5, on Saturday behind Joe Colborne's three goals.

Colorado knows it has to stop getting off to the poor starts it experienced under former coach Patrick Roy over the previous two seasons. The Avalanche lost six of their first eight last season and eight of their first 10 in 2014-15, which forced them to try to play catch-up the rest of both seasons - and they never caught up.

Bednar liked how his team responded to a 2-0 deficit with five consecutive goals, though he wasn't happy that the 5-2 lead later became only a 5-4 margin.

"I liked the way we played offensively. I thought we were skating and on our toes, creating chances. (But) I think we have to get better defensively," Bednar said. "We made some mistakes defensively up ice that gave them some numbers and gave them some scoring chances early in the game, and also a bit later."

Bednar is learning how to coach in the NHL on the fly - literally. He wasn't named the head coach until Aug. 25 following Roy's unexpected resignation. Bednar barely had two weeks to get ready for training camp and to learn the league.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can relate to that. Like Bednar, who won titles in the American Hockey League and ECHL, he was coaching in the minors last season when he was hired Dec. 12 to replace Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh.

That's why Sullivan said, more than 10 months later, the Penguins still are learning his style, even after winning the Stanley Cup with a half dozen of his former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players in their room.

"What I like about this group is, over time, we have a better understanding of how to play in one-goal games," Sullivan said following a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. "We're still trying to score, still trying to play with speed, but I think our guys are making good decisions and forcing our opponents to play that 200-foot game. We're hard to play against in that regard. I think that's when our team is at its best. Our guys have bought in."

Marc-Andre Fleury is proving to be hard to play against, too. After barely playing since late March, when he sustained his second concussion of the season, Fleury has stopped 73 of 77 shots and posted a 1.92 goals-against average.

"It's been fun," said Fleury, who lost his starting job to the currently injured Matt Murray just before the playoffs began. "I wanted those games in the preseason (to get accustomed to playing again). I wasn't as sharp as I'd like to be. There still are things I want to get better at, but not right now. I feel better now than I did at camp."

Colborne, a former University of Denver player, is feeling better the longer he gets accustomed to being with the Avalanche, He had 19 goals while playing for Calgary last season.

Colborne and Real Cloutier (1979) are the only players in franchise history to get a hat trick in their first game with the team.

"The three goals, (that's) probably the way I'm going to score most of them, and I'm just fine with that," Colborne said. "It's my job and something I take pride in, going to those tough areas and making them try to drag me down, draw some penalties and hopefully bury some."

The Penguins, who had the day off Sunday as they play three games in four nights, already are making some adjustments as they compete without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion).

On Saturday, Sullivan moved forward Conor Sheary to right wing on Matt Cullen's wing, with Chris Kunitz on the left. Right wing Patric Hornqvist shifted to center Evgeni Malkin's line so Scott Wilson could play on his natural left side. Sheary responded with a goal and a number of scoring opportunities.

"You're kind of hitting yourself for not burying a couple of those," Sheary said. "But it's a good sign when you're getting a lot of chances."

Bednar will switch goalies Monday, from Semyon Varlamov to backup Calvin Pickard, who stopped 47 of 48 shots in 1-0 Avalanche overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 2014. Varlamov will start Tuesday against his former team, the Washington Capitals.

The Penguins were 2-0 against Colorado last season, winning 4-3 on Nov. 19 in Pittsburgh and 4-2 at Colorado on Dec. 9, Johnston's last victory as coach.