Wasn't defense supposed to be a problem for the 2013-14 Avalanche the flaw the team would try to airbrush as best it could from the overall picture? The Avs would have to win every game 6-5 the critics chirped their defense and goaltending too suspect to realistically count upon.

More than 10 percent through the season only one NHL team has been stingier allowing goals than the Avs who have allowed 12 in nine games. The Boston Bruins entering Tuesday had allowed 10 — but in two fewer games played.

Question is: Are the Avs just lucky so far with standing-on-their-heads goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere or has the defense been better than anyone thought?

"Maybe a mix of both" Avs coach Patrick Roy said after Monday's 1-0 shutout of high-powered Pittsburgh. "But it hasn't been a one-man thing. It's been a 23-man thing for us. We're back-checking hard not just allowing lots of chances and having our goaltender do it all. I think our guys are clearing rebounds and communicating defensively. But certainly our goaltending has been outstanding."

It is important to note that good defense in hockey doesn't come only from players with the title of "defenseman" and "goalie."

Probably the biggest mission of Roy before the season was to improve the team's five-man defense to have a better coordinated structure to the plan. That means forwards need to track the opposing players when they don't have the puck. That means forwards and defensemen can't be too gapped out. If that happens opponents can sweep in to capture loose pucks leading to trouble.

The Avs also were expected to have a terrible penalty-killing unit again but that has been far from the case. The penalty kill has improved — it is at 90.3 percent second in the league — because the four men on the ice have played in a tight but mobile formation that is taking away easy back-door passing lanes and swarming quickly to rebounds. And when things have gotten a bit too loose Varlamov and Giguere have made the stops.