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Nathan MacKinnon is Undeniable, his MVP Caliber Season Has Raised the Stakes

Meghan Angley Avatar
April 10, 2024

It was a dominant game from Nathan MacKinnon with his third hat trick of the season and seventh of his career – only three players in franchise history have more: Peter Stastny (16), Joe Sakic (15) and Michel Goulet (13).

Jared Bednar said that he wanted to see the team get a good identity game under their belt after a difficult stretch with some ugly losses against Edmonton, Dallas, Columbus, and Montreal.

With their 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Colorado Avalanche ended Minnesota’s playoff hopes and kept their home ice bid alive. Dallas won (109 points) and Winnipeg (102) won in overtime, so the Avs (104) have to keep pushing.

Alongside MacKinnon’s brilliance, Jonathan Drouin set a new career-high in points and Colorado’s defense cleaned up a lot of their mistakes and put forth a solid performance.

Bednar said that Alexandar Georgiev did his job perfectly. With only two goals allowed on the penalty kill, it was a steady showing in net.

All around, Colorado looked more like themselves again.

Hart Trophy Race

On the same night as Nathan MacKinnon’s hat trick (three goals and an assist) Nikita Kucherov also tallied three assists: a powerplay assist, an assist on an empty net goal, and an assist on the opening goal.

This kept MacKinnon (137 points) two points back from Kucherov (139) in the points race, but MacKinnon’s performance on ESPN put his greatness in front of a large audience that just might help his bid for the league’s most valuable player.

For those who’ve been watching all year, it’s unsurprising. He’s consistently reached new heights in his game.

After the second goal against Minnesota, he reached the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career.

He became the sixth player in franchise history to score 50 goals in a season, joining Michel Goulet (4x), Joe Sakic (2x), Mikko Rantanen, Jacques Richard, and Milan Hejduk.

“I’m not surprised he got 50,” Bednar said. “We’ve grown accustomed to seeing some really special performances at different times during the year from him and some other guys on our roster. That was pretty much as dominant a performance as you could have in my books. 

We didn’t talk about offense over the last couple of days and so when I was watching Nate play, I was just watching to see how dialed in he was going to be on the defensive side of it and he was dialed in.

It’s important for your top guys to take the message that we’re selling to the team and then lead by example. He did that, and because of the way he defended, he comes up with these rush opportunities.”

I’ve seen him be fast out of those holes before in the d-zone and explode through the neutral zone… but tonight it was like a whole new level.”

Jared Bednar on Nathan MacKinnon

That doesn’t mean that he still can’t surprise himself.

“I never thought in my life I’d score 50,” he said. “Honestly, I never really thought I would. It feels good. A lot of amazing plays from everybody all season. A lot of empty nets. A lot of hard work from the whole lineup. I think it’s a team achievement, honestly.”

It’s been a historic season. He’s neck and neck in the scoring race, tied for the league lead in scoring at five-on-five, second in the league in rush chances, and closing in on records last touched by the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

He surpassed Joe Sakic’s Avs record for points in a season and is just two away from the franchise record set by Peter Stastny.

The clip at which he’s produced in Ball Arena is consistently prolific.

In February, MacKinnon said that he was seeing things so well on the ice that the plays developed a little slower in his eyes.

That’s probably the most terrifying thing his opponents could have heard, and he hasn’t looked back since that point.

After three breakaway goals against the Wild, hats came raining down in Ball Arena. Multiple MVP chants broke out throughout the night.

The reality for the Hart Trophy race is that we’ve been treated to some incredible hockey this season. The names at the forefront of the race alongside MacKinnon, Kucherov, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews, have put up impressive seasons respectively.

MacKinnon has always brought something a little different to the table in Hart conversations. He’s a wrecking ball on the ice and can make opponents pay with his speed and intensity. There’s a physically punishing threat that he carries alongside his skill. He’s a fierce competitor and it’s hard to contain him. He plays with what feels like a perpetual chip on his shoulders in the best way.

Time missed in past seasons has held him back in the scoring race and has kept him from crossing the threshold, but this year has been special.

He’s demonstrated what an offensive weapon he can be with a full runway. He can produce with the likes of McDavid while bringing a palatable, smothering intensity.

Hart or not, there’s no denying MacKinnon the year that he’s had. With some of his greatest performances in the playoffs, the best is only yet to come.

Defense Improved

With a goal in the second period against Minnesota, Cale Makar broke his own franchise record for the most points in a season by a defenseman – now with 87 – and became the first in franchise history to register multiple 20-goal campaigns (two).

Only two active defensemen have more: Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson (each with three). Makar is also one point back of Quinn Hughes in the points race among defensemen.

At five-on-five (and even strength) Colorado allowed just one high-danger opportunity. Bednar believed it was among the lowest he’s seen allowed in five seasons. After huge defensive errors against Dallas, it was clear the team dug deep into their film.

Minnesota scored on their first two powerplay chances, but the Avs locked it down for the remaining three.

Obviously five shorthanded situations in a game isn’t ideal, but after having a top-five penalty kill in March, it was important for the kill to regain its strengths.

Bednar talked about what they did to get out of a rut on the PK.

“The first thing you try to do is get super aggressive, have real good rush coverage, and then get skating and using your legs. Put teams under duress a little bit to rush them. That’s without making any Xs and Os changes… that’s what [Nolan Pratt] did. He got them skating and working harder.”

Drouin’s Revival

Jonathan Drouin had a three-point night and set several new personal bests. It marked a new career-high in assists (37) and points (56). It’s also his most multi-assist games (6) and multi-point games (15) now in his tenth NHL season.

In 2019, Val Nichushkin came to Colorado from Dallas on the heels of a zero goal season and became a key player in their 2022 Stanley Cup run three seasons later.

Drouin’s game has experienced a similar revival, albeit more quickly in just one season’s time with the Avs. It’s incredibly impressive.

MacKinnon said that Drouin has proven a lot of people wrong.

Bednar talked about the pride he takes in helping to cultivate an environment that will draw out the best in his players.

“I still don’t know what Drouin’s ceiling is, but he’s making a pretty nice case for himself that he’s a really well-rounded, high-skilled, 200-foot player,” he said. “The trust that we have in him as a staff to be able to play against all the other team’s top lines every night, regardless of whether that was with Nate or not with Nate, he’s handling it really well. I like the version of him now and I want to see it continue to grow.”


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