In winning fashion Wednesday night, Nathan MacKinnon reached a Hall of Fame-backed milestone with his 50th assist of the season, becoming just the third Avalanche player to produce 50 assists in three consecutive seasons.
Only club legends Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg had done that before, with Sakic (1998-2002) and Forsberg (1995-99) — both enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame — doing it in four straight campaigns.
“In an ideal world, that’s what you do, right? You come out and start the third and keep after them and get a goal to put the game somewhat out of reach,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “I thought we did a nice job all night long in the offensive zone, possessing the puck, making good decisions with it, not making it easy on them (and) force them to defend.”
MacKinnon now has 84 points, tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for second in the NHL. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl has a league-high 95 points. MacKinnon walked out of the locker room when reporters entered it Wednesday and didn’t appear to want to comment about his 26th multiple-point game of the season.
Against old friend Semyon Varlamov, the Russian goalie who played the previous eight seasons in Colorado, the Avs got goals from Joonas Donskoi midway through the first period and Andre Burakovsky early in the second and took a 2-0 lead into the third.
Then the Avs shut the door on the defensive-minded, low-scoring Islanders at 7:43 of the final frame when Gabe Landeskog redirected a shot by MacKinnon past Varlamov. New York’s Brock Nelson scored a late goal as the Islanders avoided the shutout.
“I’m definitely happy with the way we finished and really played the whole game the right way,” Landeskog said. “It’s a big difference going 2-1 if they score than 3-1, so we wanted to make sure we were hunting that (third) goal. It was good to get it.”
The Avs climbed within a point of St. Louis and Dallas, both with 76, atop the Central Division and Western Conference standings. Colorado has played one fewer game than the Blues and Stars in a tight race for division and conference supremacy.
“You love competition. Nobody is in the game if you don’t like it,” said Avs defenseman Cale Makar, who had assists on Donskoi and Burakovsky’s goals to climb to 45 points. “Obviously, we’re all really close at the top there. It just depends on who seperates themselves in this next little bit.”
The Avs, who got a terrific 27-save effort from goalie Pavel Francouz, also snapped a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) and finished 2-2-1 on a five-game homestand.
The injury-depleted Avs played their second game without injured goalie Philipp Grubauer, who is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. They were also without injured key forwards Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri and Matt Calvert, who are are out through this month and probably longer.
Rantanen suffered what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury Monday. Calvert has missed two games with a lower-body injury and Kadri, who is on crutches, missed his fifth with a leg ailment.
Footnotes. Forward Martin Kaut, 20, made his NHL debut for the Avs, who selected the Czech Republic native with the 16th pick of the 2018 draft. Kaut played right wing on a line with center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and left wing Matt Nieto. Colorado’s only healthy scratch was defenseman Mark Barberio. … The Avs will travel to Anaheim on Thursday and prepare for a consecutive-night stretch in Southern California against the Ducks on Friday and Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Because the Avs’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, are also playing road games in California this weekend, the Avs will stick with a minimum 12 forwards and only use a call-up if a forward on the big club goes down with injury Friday.
— Mike Chambers (@MikeChambers) February 20, 2020