Nathan MacKinnon

J.T. Compher scores twice as Avalanche down Wild 5-1


The Colorado Avalanche kept their playoff train chugging along nicely on Tuesday.

Sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference heading into the game, the Avalanche received some help from the Montreal Canadiens via a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars, and kept up their end of the bargain with a 5-1 win away to the Minnesota Wild to leapfrog the Stars into the first wildcard spot — three points behind the Wild for third place in the Central Division.

The Avs are a healthy 5-0-3 in their past eight games.

While Nathan MacKinnon has been doing much of the heavy lifting to position himself favorably in the Hart Trophy conversation, it was J.T. Compher who took a bit of that load off on Tuesday.

Compher got the ball rolling for the Avalanche, scoring on a nice wrist shot that beat Dubnyk high in the first period.

Colorado’s lead would last well into the second period before Mikko Koivu converted on a odd-man rush to bring the Wild level.

Minnesota — who lost 7-1 the last time these two teams met — came into the game 3-1-0 in their past four, and with the Winnipeg Jets falling 3-1 to the Nashville Predators earlier in the night, the Wild had a chance to close the gap on second place in the division to five points.

But 59 seconds after Koivu notched his 13th, Nikita Zadorov crushed a one-timer from the slot past Dubnyk to restore the 2-1 lead.

Nathan MacKinnon entered the game on an eight-game heater and pushed that number to nine games 11 seconds into the third period to double Colorado’s advantage.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 17 points during his streak and 18 goals and 42 points in his past 25 games.

Compher’s second of the night came in the second half of the third period, a goal that was challenged for goaltender interference but upheld after the review.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Who’s going to win the Maurice Richard Trophy?

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It wasn’t long ago that Alex Ovechkin looked primed for his seventh Maurice Richard Trophy.

The Great 8 was consistently notching goals and keeping a distance between himself and his nearest competitors. What would be needed from prospective challengers to close the gap was a lengthy run in the goal department.

And that’s exactly what has happened.

The last couple of weeks have thrown a mighty wrench into Ovi’s plans of seeing his name engraved Rocket’s trophy again. This isn’t to say that Ovechkin won’t claim the title this season — he’s done it more times than anyone since it was introduced in 1999 — it’s just that the race has gotten pretty exciting as the NHL heads into its final swath of games.

Let’s break down the challengers and a couple pretenders who might get a promotion over the final few weeks of the season.


Alex Ovechkin:

The man the top snipers in the league have been chasing for the majority of the season. Entering Saturday’s action, Ovechkin sits on the throne when it comes to goal scoring. He’s the only man to have hit 40 this season and looks primed to add to that total over the past 15 games of the season. It’s certainly not out of the realm for Ovechkin to hit 50 this year, and he may need to do so to fend off some of those sitting very close behind him.


Patrik Laine:

Laine idolized Ovechkin growing up. And now he has an opportunity to snatch the goal scoring title from his childhood hero. Just 10 games ago, Laine was sitting with a cool 25 goals. Fast forward to Thursday night, and Laine scored his 14th goal in his past 10 games, putting him one behind Ovechkin in the race. What’s even more incredible about Laine is that he’s only 19 years old, and he plays the game like he has ice in his veins. It’s unlikely he’s going to let any nerves get to him as he tries to usurp Ovi. Did I mention Laine is only 19? Yikes.

Evgeni Malkin:

Our very own Joey Alfieri wrote an excellent piece on Malkin and why people haven’t been talking about him. Malkin has 24 goals in 28 games since the beginning of 2018. It’s an insane amount, and a run that has him sitting on 38 goals on the season. Malkin is going to be in the running for the Hart this season. Winning the Rocket Richard might put him over the top.

Eric Staal:

It’s been a decade since Staal produced a 40 goal season. He’s 33 now. But father time and the odds he brings don’t seem to care too much this season — Staal has simply turned back the clock. Staal’s heater has him with 18 goals in his past 20 games, putting him just three shy of Ovechkin with 37. Staal’s shooting percentage is sitting just below 20 percent this season and he’s averaging close to three shots a game. The math suggests he’s got a few more in him this season.

Tyler Seguin:

Seguin mirrors Ovechkin in terms of his consistency. While Laine, Malkin and Staal have gone on some pretty epic goal-scoring excursions, Seguin has just scored at a nice rate throughout the year. That means Seguin will need to have some sort of streaky stretch to catch up, but his 36 goals have him right in the mix. And even a small streak could swing things in his favor if the players above him cool off.


William Karlsson:

No one expected this. (And it’s one of the reasons why I debated having Karlsson in as a challenger). Out of all the top goal scorers in the league, Karlsson sits at the summit with a near-24 percent shooting percentage. The jury is really out on what Karlsson can do in Vegas’ last 15 games. He’s averaging north of two shots per game but hasn’t scored in his past three. No one expects him to win this race, and that’s what makes his 35 goals so intriguing.

Nathan MacKinnon:

You could put Nikita Kucherov here. He’s got one more goal than MacKinnon’s 32. But Colorado’s playoff hopes rest on MacKinnon’s shoulders and MacKinnon has shown all season that he’s up for the task. MacKinnon has eight goals in his past 10 games after being sidelined for three weeks due to injury. The odds aren’t the best, but he’s scoring a rate this season and rivals those ahead of him.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Raanta shutout, Brassard showcase, Blackhawks finally win

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Players of the Night:

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: Raanta shutout Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, stopping all 40 shots sent his way for his first goose egg as a member of the Coyotes.

Derick Brassard, Ottawa Senators: The Derick Brassard Showcase continued on Saturday night. The Senators forward, who has been the subject of trade speculation leading up to the trade deadline in two weeks, scored in his fourth straight game and added two helpers in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers.

Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights: Smith extended his point streak to seven games, scoring twice and adding a helper in a 6-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Smith has five goals and seven assists during his streak and now has 51 points in 58 games this season.

Anders Nilsson, Vancouver Canucks: Nilsson turned aside 44 of the 45 shots he faced from one of the league’s hottest teams in the Boston Bruins. The Canucks obliged their goaltender, scoring six and chasing Tuukka Rask in a 6-1 win.

Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks: Losers of eight straight coming into Saturday, the Blackhawks finally ended the streak, putting up seven goals against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals. Toews had a goal and two assists in the game. It was Chicago’s first win of the month and their seven goals were half of the number they scored in their previous eight games.

Eddie Lack, New Jersey Devils: Lack wasn’t supposed to be playing against the league’s top team. But there he was on Saturday, stopping 48 of 51 shots against Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. He even out-dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will likely win the Vezina in June. Impressive stuff.

Highlights of the Night:

Ryan Hartman, untouchable:

Nikita Scherbak’d:

Matt Murray did this two nights ago. Deja vu:

Two-pad stack alert:

Factoids of the Night:

The season can’t end fast enough for the Oilers:

The Golden Knights are creeping toward another record:

Evgeni Malkin hits 900:



Kings 4, Sabres 2

Ducks 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Senators 6, Rangers 3

Coyotes 1, Oilers 0

Golden Knights 3, Canadiens 3

Devils 4, Lightning 3

Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 3

Red Wings 3, Predators 1

Blackhawks 7, Capitals 1

Canucks 6, Bruins 1

Panthers 6, Flames 3

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Nathan MacKinnon set for return after eight-game layoff

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Nathan MacKinnon declared himself fit on Saturday.

And with that self-diagnosis (and probably a lot of input from team doctors), the Colorado Avalanche superstar will return to the lineup on Sunday when the Edmonton Oilers come to town.

MacKinnon has missed eight games with an upper-body injury, going down at a time when the Avalanche were thriving off his impressive play.

The former No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft left second in NHL scoring with 61 points, although he’s fallen a bit behind now, sitting in 16th spot.

More importantly, MacKinnon’s play had him in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, and despite missing eight games, could likely put himself right back there if he can lead the Avs to a playoff spot.

Colorado was 4-4-0 without MacKinnon, including an ugly 6-1 defeat away to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.

“A hundred percent, I feel good,” MacKinnon told’s Rick Sadowski on Saturday. “My trainers did a great job getting me ready, getting me healthy quickly, so I’m good.”

The Avs get their All-Star back at a time they need him most. Colorado sits three points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 25 games to play.

“You get your best player back, it’s positive, no question” Colorado coach Jared Bednar told Sadowski. “He drives our offense in a lot of ways, 5-on-5, power play. We need him back, but we can’t just rely on Nate. It’s not just going to magically turn around here in our favor just because he’s back in our lineup.”

The Avs also found out that Alexander Kerfoot is a quality young center within their organization.

“He’s been pretty good,” Bednar said from Winnipeg on Friday. “It’s a big hole to fill, a big job playing in that No. 1 spot. For a young guy coming in an elevating his game as the year goes on, I think he’s been pretty good. He’s learning on the go a little bit. He’s faced some real tough matchups, he’s still finding a way to chip in a little bit offensively and, for the most part, done a nice job defensively as well.

“We’re pretty happy with what he’s done.”

On Friday, before his team’s walloping, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog told’s Tim Campbell that he felt his team had what it takes to make the playoffs, without the need to bring in any more talent at the trade deadline.

“I think for us, first and foremost, we’re focused on winning hockey games,” Landeskog said. “The trade deadline is what it is. We’re a team that’s pushing to get in and we’re just on the outside looking in right now and we’re focused on winning games. I believe with the team we have, we’re good enough to make the playoffs. We haven’t been favored by too many people to make the playoffs, but as long as the guys in here believe, I think we can do it.”

Whether they need help or not is certainly debatable, but Landeskog also said he believes any moves that general manager Joe Sakic would make would be minor. The thrashing they received at the hands of the Jets on Friday would suggest they need to do more than just stand pat.

But the injection of MacKinnon could act as a quasi-acquisition in its own right.

The Avs have a lot to do if they’re going to emerge out of the toughest division in the NHL. Getting MacKinnon back for the stretch drive can only help.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Culture Change: How an attitude adjustment has slowly begun to turn the Colorado Avalanche around

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WINNIPEG — Gabriel Landeskog knew. 

A change in the cultural fabric in Colorado is something the Avalanche had talked about for a couple seasons, and something that hadn’t happened.

The warning signs for the 25-year-old captain of the Avs were abundant, including a treasure trove of terrible that attached itself to a historically brutal season in 2016-17.

Like the natural phenomena they’re named after, those problems finally broke free early last season for the Avs. Unable to be controlled, they tore down the Colorado Avalanche, only coming to a halt at the end of the season at rock bottom. 

“You take it pretty personal,” Landeskog said on Saturday in Winnipeg, hours before his team would lose 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, a fourth loss in their past five games since winning 10 straight.

It was a far cry from the days of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy, when the team was dominating the Western Conference, not wallowing as the team others trampled over at will.

That winning culture was gone, replaced with mediocrity in recent years and then utter failure after last season.

Nothing looked quite like last year.  

Colorado’s 48 points was a franchise worst. They lost 56 games. They were last or close to last in numerous statistical categories.

“You’re not supposed to take it home with you, but I would,” Landeskog said. “This is our job, this is what we do. It’s something that is hard to put behind you, going home and trying not to think about the fact that you just lost six in a row.”

The Avs needed a core leadership group to emerge to start those changes. Landeskog said himself, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and Blake Comeau came together to figure out how to begin to mend their ailing team. 

“It was really embarrassing for us,” Barrie said of the 2016-17 campaign. 

Barrie, along with the now-departed Matt Duchene, led the team with a minus-34. It’s a flawed statistic, sure, but one indicative one what was happening on the ice. Only four players that played some sort of role for the Avalanche were zero or better in that category. 

“It was a bad season and we knew we didn’t want to be back there. It was a long summer for us,” Barrie said.

With a core trying to steer this ship and a coaching staff in the same boat, Barrie said training camp prior to this season was the hardest and toughest he’s taken part in.

“Physical, testing, everything like that,” he said.

Landeskog said the leadership group assembled wasn’t a dictatorship, noting that every team has its core and it was a potential solution to the massive problem. 

“It’s easier said than done,” Landeskog said of changing the team’s attitude. “There were a lot of Xs and Os. We had a young team that maybe didn’t have to be accountable where they came from before. Maybe there was a different attitude. We had to establish one attitude here, and it started with the veteran guys.” 

Both Landeskog and Barrie agreed that there wasn’t a particular switch that was flipped this season. Hard work from training camp didn’t immediately translate as the Avs flirted with .500 in October.

But Landeskog pointed to the trip they took to Sweden as a possible turning point.

The Avs lost both games to the Ottawa Senators — close affairs — and were dealing with the departure of Matt Duchene, who had been traded days before they embarked to Landeskog’s homeland.

“You talk about team building and stuff like that. Some people might not believe in it, but I’m a strong believer in it,” Landeskog said. “That trip brought us a lot closer.”

The on-ice product started to follow suit. The work they had put in since the beginning of the season began to pay off and the Avs rattled off 10 straight wins to climb back into the playoff picture.

“We’re a different team this year,” Barrie said. “I think having some fresh, new faces in here, some guys who were really excited to be in the NHL and be a part of a team like the Avalanche, gave us some energy.”

MacKinnon has put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation with what many believe is his breakout season. A 2-to-4 week suspected shoulder injury has derailed that a little bit, but MacKinnon’s stellar play leading by example has helped the Avs to where they are, just outside the playoff line — something unimaginable at this point last season.

Mikko Rantanen has taken a step forward in his sophomore year and rookie Alexander Kerfoot has been a godsend down the middle, especially now that he’s tasked to help stem the bleeding in MacKinnon’s absence.

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Barrie said. “You look at guys like (MacKinnon) taking the next step. And we’ve had guys just elevate their play and these young guys come in (who are) so excited to play. They’ve been a big part of our team… it’s really exciting for the future.”

It’s a start, Landeskog said.

“We’re growing together.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck