Nathan Freaking MacKinnon
Oh my goodness, what a game. What a game. MacKinnon has had some extremely impressive performances this season (that five-point game in Buffalo has been overlooked all year) and I’ve written numerous times in this exact space about what a dominant player he was from the start of January 1 and it just never stopped.
To refresh: When MacKinnon woke up the morning of January 1, he was tied in goals (8) with the likes of Dillon Dube, Ryan Donato, and Scott Laughton, among others. Those three finished with a combined 50 goals this year. MacKinnon’s hat trick tonight put him at 42 on the season.
The assist MacKinnon had on the Devon Toews goal put him at 69 assists on the year, a nice easy number to remember for rest of human history. The 77 even-strength points MacKinnon finished the season with led the entire NHL, two more than Connor McDavid, who is on his way to another Hart Trophy after an unbelievable 153-point season.
In case you were curious, MacKinnon’s pace from Jan. 1 through the end of the year would’ve given him 82-game totals of: 59 goals, 75 assists, 134 points. In that same timespan, MacKinnon played 47 games versus McDavid’s 44 games but recorded 16 (!!) more even-strength points than McDavid.
All of this to say: MacKinnon may not even be a Hart Trophy finalist this year and that will be a downright shame if so. He has absolutely earned it. Mikko Rantanen kept the Avs afloat during a difficult time of year back in December and Alexandar Georgiev has been Colorado’s reliable rock in net, but the Avalanche MVP is absolutely MacKinnon.
He shouldered the responsibility of carrying this Avalanche team to the Central Division title and he did it. Mission accomplished. If he somehow finds another gear in the postseason, well, good luck with that, Seattle.
This dude had himself a pretty nice night. The shot metrics are basically even, but he was one of the few Avs locked in from beginning to end tonight and his physicality I think helped wake the Avs from their second-period slumber. He was throwing the body around and just punishing guys who tried to operate in/around Georgiev’s crease.
On offense, he moved the puck, skated through the neutral zone and showed more willingness to be creative and try to make a play instead of being the reason an offensive possession ended.
It’s not very often that a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy like Jack Johnson really jumps off the ice but I thought he was a noticeable difference-maker in this game, especially when Colorado’s level as a team dropped and he kept on being a wrecking ball back there.
It was a quiet first game back last night against Winnipeg but that absolutely did not continue in this game. He was flying around the ice and all over the place. You could see where the lack of high-end skill alongside him was making a difference because he’s gotten accustomed to the sweet life alongside MacKinnon and Rantanen.
Playing mostly alongside J.T. Compher and several other wings as the Avs mostly relied on 11 forwards (Alex Galchenyuk didn’t even break 3 minutes played), Lehkonen was involved in everything for the Avs. I loved his energy and it was a very welcome sight after a predictably pedestrian return last night. Count me as a Lehkonen enjoyer, especially his speed and tenacity. When people say the phrase, ‘hard on pucks’, just envision Lehkonen.
The second period
Up 3-1 after an absolutely dominant opening frame, Colorado watched a hungry Nashville team work its way back into the game and eventually tie on Kiefer Sherwood’s second goal of the game.
It was just a disaster of a period. They had the lead and comfortably controlled the game against a Nashville squad that just didn’t have anything to play for and they let the kids on the Preds roster beat them up and down the ice for the entire middle frame.
If you’re looking for a reason to be concerned about the Avalanche as they head into the playoffs, it’s that this year’s squad has gotten too comfortable in games at times and their level drops far below what we ever really saw from last year’s team. They just let too many teams back into games.
I really wanted to put Sam Girard here but I’m not interested in the fight. Girard did rule, though, so enjoy that.
I’m going with Georgiev as the unsung hero because he absolutely wasn’t a Stud and appeared headed for Dud status until the third period. He wasn’t asked with making many big saves or stop a bunch of high-danger chances, but the cross-ice pass that Georgiev got a piece of in the third period when the game was still tied 3-3 was a game-changing save.
If he gives that up, who knows how this ends? He doesn’t, though, and MacKinnon had one last thunderbolt left in him for the regular season. It was an ugly start for Georgiev but he scrapped and battled and made the game-changing save for his team. Not a great night by any means, but the kind of gutsy win a goalie needs from time to time.