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Avalanche top line isn’t just about MacKinnon

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With 85 points in just 62 games played, Nathan MacKinnon isn’t just blowing away any other season he’s enjoyed in the NHL, he’s scoring at a pace that parallels some of Joe Sakic’s best moments in Colorado.

Despite missing time with an injury, MacKinnon ranks fourth with those 85 points, and his 1.37 points-per-game average is better than those of top scorers Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin. It was also clear that the Avalanche struggled with MacKinnon sidelined from Jan. 30 until Feb. 18.

Whether you go shallow or deeper, there are a lot of ways to talk up MacKinnon’s Hart credentials.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

While you can’t ignore that MacKinnon is the speedy, clever catalyst of that wrecking crew of a top line, the other key figures deserve some love, too. So consider this an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and fantastic Finn Mikko Rantanen.

Strong support

Much like MacKinnon only being 22, the youthfulness of this line is the first thing that stands out.

Landeskog has been around the block already, so it might be surprising to realize that the sturdy Swede is only 25. He made an immediate impact in the NHL, going from being the second pick of the 2011 NHL Draft to winning the Calder Trophy in 2011-12. Amusingly enough, Landeskog collected exactly the same goals (22) and points (52) during that rookie campaign as he has so far in 2017-18, although in this case he’s gotten there in 66 instead of 82 games.

Rantanen, 21, is quickly developing into one of the better young scorers in the NHL.

After failing to score a point during a nine-game audition back in 2015-16, Rantanen emerged as one of the lone bright spots for the Avalanche last season, scoring 20 goals and 38 points in 75 games, averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per night.

This season, Rantanen’s made another quantum leap. He already has 25 goals and 74 points in 69 contests. Rantanen was especially impressive during last night’s 4-1 win against the Blues, scoring two goals and two assists.

That game also provided a moment that illustrated that they’re dangerous in their own right, as Landeskog sent a tremendous stretch pass to Rantanen, who finished the play with a great backhand goal.

While we’re at it, MacKinnon’s brilliance and an injury absence also pushes Tyson Barrie‘s explosive output under the radar. Consider how big of a gap there is between Barrie, the Avalanche’s top line, and Colorado’s other scorers:

MacKinnon: 85 points, 35 goals
Rantanen: 74 points, 25 goals
Landeskog: 52 points, 22 goals
Barrie: 48 points, 10 goals in 56 games

Alexander Kerfoot: 36 points, 15 goals
Carl Soderberg: 33 points, 15 goals

MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog are the only Colorado players with 20+ goals so far in 2017-18. Despite being limited to 56 games, Barrie is tied for 10th place among NHL defensemen in scoring with 48 points. His .86 point-per-game pace is the best among all NHL defensemen who’ve played in at least 20 games.

Now, it’s totally valid to point out that MacKinnon is still the driving force; this post is by no means a way of refuting his MVP argument. Both Landeskog and Rantanen saw their scoring rates slow down with MacKinnon on the shelf for a couple weeks, for example. Instead, the point is that MacKinnon is the leader of a truly impressive trio, with Rantanen in particular standing out as a fantastic “Robin” to his “Batman.”

Contract concern

Actually, the Avalanche may want to find out how Rantanen might operate without MacKinnon, even if they wait until 2018-19 to do so. So far, Rantanen’s been tethered to MacKinnon. According to Natural Stat Trick, only about 96 minutes of MacKinnon’s even-strength ice time has come without Rantanen. The two joined forces for most of 2017-18, too.

The Avs are fighting for playoff positioning, so it would be foolish to gamble on this current chemistry by breaking up lines right now.

But, in 2018-19, it might be wise to see how Rantanen can produce without MacKinnon. The Avalanche already have Landeskog ($5.57 million cap hit through 2020-21) and MacKinnon (ridiculous bargain of $6.3M through 2022-23) locked up to long-term deals, yet Rantanen’s rookie deal runs out after 2018-19.

The risk is that, by chaining him with MacKinnon, Rantanen’s value might be inflated. You could see such a scenario play out with the Oilers, as Leon Draisaitl was able to ramp up his stats during his contract year riding shotgun with Connor McDavid.

Finding two forwards with high-level chemistry is fantastic, yet in a salary cap league, sometimes you want to spread the wealth. If Rantanen ends up costing a lot of money, the Avalanche would be wise to gauge how much offense he could produce as the driving force of his own line.

Again, you can file this under “good problems to have” but it’s something GM Joe Sakic, head coach Jared Bednar, and other Avalanche front office members should at least consider.

***

To reiterate, MacKinnon is “the guy” for the Avs. As he goes, so does Colorado.

Even so, Rantanen and Landeskog deserve a cut of the credit, too, as they’re enjoying fantastic seasons in their own right. This trio could very well make the Avalanche an upset threat in the playoffs as well.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Brossoit leads Jets; Palmieri’s historic double

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Three Stars

1. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets. While earning his first win as a Jet, Brossoit stopped 42 shots during a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For the fifth time in seven games, the Hurricanes fired at least 40 shots on net, but the 25-year-old netminder stood tall to help Winnipeg to their second win in three games.

2. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. Continuing his hot start to the season, Palmieri netted two goals during the Devils’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. His second period power-play goal was followed up by another tally early in the third period even the score at two. Palmieri now has six goals on the season, scoring twice in each of New Jersey’s three games this season. And per the NHL, Palmieri is the fourth NHL player to score multiple goals in three straight games to begin a season, joining Patrick Marleau (2012-13), Cy Denneny (1917-18) and Peter Stastny (1982-83).

3. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks. Miller made 29 saves, including 10 in the final period to help the Ducks to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Dating back to the end of last season, Anaheim has won its last four games Miller has started.

Highlights of the Night

Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on a 2-on-0 would result in a goal probably 99.9 percent of the time. Not this time, thanks to Petr Mrazek:

• Patrik Laine. From the circle. One-timer.

Bryan Little‘s first of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 2:09 to go to help the Jets to a victory. What a pass by Josh Morrissey:

Andrew Cogliano also picked the right time to score, breaking a 2-2 deadlock on the power play with 5:16 left in the third period:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 3, Sharks 2
Ducks 3, Blues 2
Jets 3, Hurricanes 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers’ Matheson to have DoPS hearing for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers won’t see one another again until the middle of January, but there will still be plenty of hard feelings following their Saturday night encounter.

Canucks’ stud rookie Elias Pettersson is in concussion protocol, per Sportsnet, after he was body-slammed to the ice early in the third period of Vancouver’s 3-2 victory by Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson.

Pettersson is now in concussion protocol as the team travels to Pittsburgh for a game on Tuesday. Matheson, meanwhile, will have a phone hearing Monday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The Canucks weren’t thinking retribution following the hit. It was a 2-2 game and head coach Travis Green did not want his players running around and risking giving the Panthers power plays. After the game, though, they sounded off.

“That’s a dirty play,” said Green. “The league is trying to protect the good young players and that’s a dirty play.”

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” said Canucks forward Antoine Roussel.

The injury put a damper on an historic night for the 19-year-old Petterson. His goal made him the sixth player since 1997-98 to reach at least points in his first five NHL games. He currently has eight, which is one behind what Evgeni Malkin achieved during the 2006-07 NHL season. He also matched a Canucks record for most consecutive games (5) with a point. As of Sunday he leads all rookies in goals (5) and points (8).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Fleury enters unconscious mode; Dahlin pots first

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Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: I mean, just look at this to see why. Fleury hasn’t started his season on the foot he would have wanted to, but he stopped all 26 shots on Saturday afternoon to perhaps get both of his feet back under him. The shutout was the 49th of his career, tying him for 29th all-time, and some of the saves he made were vintage Fleury. Seriously, check them out.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes: A four-point night for Aho saw the 20-year-old help set up the game-tying goal and then score the game-winner in overtime. Aho had five shots on goal in the game and the Hurricanes put up a whopping 57 as they continued their fine start to the season. Carolina has yet to lose in regulation thus far with a 4-0-1 record.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: Pastrnak scored his second-career hat trick as the Bruins mauled the Detroit Red Wings in an 8-2 win. It seems like every time the Bruins play, one of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron or Brad Marchand are putting up insane numbers. The trio is one of the best lines in the NHL — combining for eight points on Saturday — and they have the Bruins cruising to start the season.

Highlights of the Night

Fleury’s start to the season has been less than optimal. This save, however, insane.

Goalies were front and center of some of the best highlights from Saturday. This from Devan Dubnyk.

This isn’t even fair.

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 8, Red Wings 2

Senators 5, Kings 1

Golden Knights 1, Flyers 0

Oilers 2, Rangers 1

Hurricanes 5, Wild 4

Lightning 8, Blue Jackets 2

Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 2

Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (SO)

Canucks 3, Panthers 2

Predators 5, Islanders 2

Stars 5, Ducks 3

Blackhawks 4, Blues 3 (OT)

Sabres 3, Coyotes 0

Flames 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)


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

‘Dirty play’ knocks Canucks’ Pettersson out of game

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(UPDATE: Matheson will have a Monday phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.)

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t need to mince words when he was asked about the controversial hit that knocked one of his star players out of Saturday’s game.

“It’s a dirty play,” Green said of the stinging hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson, as you will see below, put a nice move on Matheson moments before the hit.

Matheson didn’t take too kindly getting beat by the skilled Swede, and on his next opportunity, hit Pettersson and then threw him viciously down onto the ice. It appeared that the 19-year-old’s head bounced off the ice shortly after getting thrown down.

As you can see, Pettersson struggled to get back to his feet, falling over on his first attempt. He was able to get to his feet after waiting a moment, but he definitely looked woozy.

The Canucks refrained from getting retribution on the night, but Antoine Roussel made it clear that they’ll see the Panthers again.

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” Roussel said after the game.

“Looked like WWE to me,” said Sven Baertschi.

Pettersson had already done what he does best earlier in the game, sniping a shot on the power play that James Reimer had zero chance at saving.

The goal matched a team record for longest point streak by a player to start his career at five games. Pettersson has been a godsend to the Canucks and has five goals and three assists during that span.

Green had no update on Pettersson’s status after the game.

The Canucks held on to win 3-2.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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