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"He's playing out of his mind right now." Nathan MacKinnon continues to unlock career milestones like it's nothing
The Colorado Avalanche responded to their loss in Chicago in the most dramatic way possible.
Back in Ball Arena, the stars put on a show. It was almost as if they allowed Ottawa opportunities in the second period to emphasize the heroics.
Colorado emerged triumphant in their 6-4 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Understandably in a ten goal game, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Interestingly, the goal-share for Colorado was split between just two players: Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
Two minutes into the contest, Angus Crookshank took a hooking penalty and the Avs earned their first powerplay chance – a precursor to the bag of tricks that awaited the Sens.
Rantanen fed Cale Makar at the point. Makar passed to MacKinnon at the left-circle and used Jonathan Drouin in the slot to springboard the puck back to himself. Drouin pinged it back to MacKinnon through two Ottawa defenders and MacKinnon one-timed it past Joonas Korpisalo.
MacKinnon’s point streak stretched to 17 games.
Both teams took a penalty in the first period. On Colorado’s kill, the Sens cycled the puck up high and created a little space for themselves down low as a result.
Tim Stutzle sent the puck to Drake Batherson near the post, and Batherson made a slot-pass to Josh Norris inside the right-circle. Norris dropped to one knee to snap it in past Alexandar Georgiev.
Fifteen seconds later, Ottawa transitioned through the neutral zone and set up in Colorado’s end. Jakob Chychrun sent the puck toward the net from the blueline and it angled off Dominik Kubalik’s stick and bounced off Devon Toews’ body near Ridly Grieg. Grieg batted it in backdoor. It was a weird play that was hard for both Toews and Georgiev to anticipate.
At the tail end of the first, Makar rimmed the puck around the boards and Val Nichushkin fought to maintain possession. Nichushkin made a beautiful pass around two defenders to MacKinnon streaking to the slot. MacKinnon wristed it in from down low to neutralize the period. It was his 300th career goal.
The Avs outshot Ottawa 20-9 and dominated the possession battle.
Like some second periods we’ve seen as of late, the Avs let their foot off the gas a little bit.
Early into the start, Ottawa won the d-zone faceoff and acted quickly off the draw. Jacob Bernard-Docker received the puck at the point and blasted a shot at distance. Unfortunately the puck’s angle changed slightly after coming off Makar’s stick.
Wedged between penalties-against, of which the Avs successfully killed, the Sens did gain a little momentum and struck back.
Just past the midway point, the Sens created an odd-man rush off a breakout. Coming in on Sam Malinski and Toews, Jiri Smejkal made the cross-slot pass to Batherson at the left-circle. Batherson waited for Malinski to drop for the block to wrist it past Georgiev.
The Sens made up significant ground in the second period. The defensive details weren’t sound and the Avs gave up dangerous scoring opportunities. The Sens outshot Colorado 21-12 and had ten high-danger chances.
“The second was terrible,” said Jared Bednar, “odd-man rush after odd-man rush coming the other way.”
All this made for the perfect opportunity for more late-period heroics.
The Avs earned a powerplay chance. After a MacKinnon one-timer rebounded off Korpisalo, Ottawa tried to bat it away from Nichushkin in the slot and sent it right to Rantanen’s stick. Rantanen wristed it in far-side.
Now they were back within one. Batherson took a holding penalty, and the Avs sent the hot powerplay unit back onto the ice.
Nichushkin dove to keep the puck possession and sent it to Toews at the point. Toews fed MacKinnon at the left-circle and wristed it in to complete the hat trick.
The goal was reviewed for offsides and the officials decided it was good. On the subsequent powerplay for the failed challenge, the Avs captured the lead.
They cycled the puck high to create space similar to what Ottawa had done before. It worked because Rantanen was able to creep behind the goal line to redirect Nathan MacKinnon’s feed from the top of the circle into the net from a tough angle.
Colorado made things a little difficult on themselves in the final ten minutes. They had to kill two minor penalties, with a key PK’er in the box for one of them, but they weathered the storm.
At 19:37, MacKinnon delivered his final blow with the empty-net goal.
It was MacKinnon’s first ever four-goal game and the first in the franchise since 1995-96.
“He’s playing out of his mind right now,” said Bednar.
The second period was a blight, but the Avs top line dragged Colorado to the finish line kicking and screaming. The penalty kill shut down five of six penalties, and the powerplay converted on four of five chances.
“Me, [Makar], and [MacKinnon], we’ve been playing together (on the powerplay) for a long time,” said Rantanen. “(We) have to take responsibility when we’re not doing well and try to get together and figure it out and stay with it. We’ve been lately doing a good job not getting frustrated.”
Alexandar Georgiev made 41 saves on the night and stopped 17 on high-danger chances.
MacKinnon now has 24 points in the month of December, Val Nichushkin has 11 points in the last six games, and Rantanen – one goal shy of the hat trick himself – also has 11 points in the last six.
“We’ve been building chemistry, me and [MacKinnon], for many, many years,” Rantanen said. “If we play like this, we can help the team a lot. Me and Val try to support him as best as we can. It’s fun, we just got to keep piling up these wins, and I think the whole confidence of individuals and the team is going to get even higher.”
“They’re doing it all,” Bednar added on the top line. “They’re probably a little frustrated with the way we played in the second as well, but yet tonight they respond and just keep working and doing whatever they can do to drag us out of the mud, and they did.”
Bednar was pleased with the win, but he noted a lot of room for improvement too.
“We got lots to work on. If we’re not going to score, we better be better defensively than we were in the second.”
The stars showed leadership through their strong performance tonight on the heels of the Chicago game which left leaders like Toews crying out for better from the team.
Rantanen shared that the team meeting before morning skate was helpful.
“They’re looking for solutions and those guys are bought-in,” Bednar said of his top players.
“For those guys to take ownership and get together and have that meeting to me is showing strong leadership, strong character. We just got to keep working to get everyone on the same page.”
The Avs have just one more game before the holiday break. They’ll be back in Ball Arena on Saturday to face the Arizona Coyotes.