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Fast-skating Avs center MacKinnon speeds toward success

DENVER — Mention a topic, just about any topic, and sharp-shooting Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon takes his elusiveness to a whole new level.

Not appearing on the cover of the NHL’s latest video game? ”Don’t care,” he responds. The pressure of becoming one of league’s top stars after a 97-point season? ”Feels normal,” the top pick in the 2013 draft quips. Taking another step in his evolution on the ice? ”Hopefully a few,” he offers.

It’s not like the speedy, 23-year-old shies away from the spotlight he has earned through his electrifying play. Rather, he’s just highly focused on helping Colorado return to the playoffs after a stirring run a year ago behind his hard-to-keep-up speed and hard-to-stop shot.

”He’s a legitimate, bona fide superstar in our league,” said defenseman Ian Cole, who joined the Avs after spending last season with Pittsburgh and Columbus. ”He’s one of the most dangerous players in the league.”

MacKinnon finished with 39 goals and 58 assists last season. He finished second to New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is given to the player who means the most to their team. That didn’t exactly sit well with MacKinnon’s line mate, captain Gabriel Landeskog.

In Landeskog’s view, seeing is believing in MacKinnon’s skills.

”The hockey world is big in the East and they don’t see Nate as much, or us as much,” Landeskog said. ”We all know how good he is. It’s a matter of time. But he doesn’t need the recognition from anybody else – we just need him to keep doing what he’s doing as far as being a really good offensive player.”

MacKinnon turned in a breakout season in which he posted stats that hadn’t been seen in Colorado in a while, including:

– Most points by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07

– Most shots (284) since Sakic during the Stanley Cup championship season in 2000-01

– 12 game-winning goals, matching the Avalanche record set by Sakic in ’00-01

– 13 three-point games, which was the most since Peter Forsberg had 14 in 2002-03.

Quite a list – and one he hopes to top this season. That’s why his summer consisted of working out every day and skating three times a week. Maybe an occasional round of golf , but his world revolved around the rink.

”I’m always thinking about hockey,” MacKinnon said . ”Not stressing over it, but definitely always thinking about it. I worked hard because another 100 points isn’t going to be handed to me. It’s tough to get that many. I don’t know if I will get that many this year. But I’ll try to and see what happens.”

MacKinnon’s prepared to embrace the pressure of being one of the game’s elite players. Then again, expectations have never weighed down MacKinnon, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

”Growing up, I was always a top prospect, and I went first overall. So it just feels normal,” said MacKinnon, who signed a seven-year, $44.1 million deal in July 2016. ”It’s somewhere I expect to be. It’s not like I won the lottery here. I feel like I’ve earned that.”

He wasn’t one of the cover players for EA Sports’ NHL ’19 , which features Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine, and Toronto center William Nylander on respective editions.

”I really don’t care,” MacKinnon said. ”I just don’t.”

More on his mind is getting the Avalanche back to the postseason. The team earned the No. 8 seed with a win in their last contest of the season before being eliminated in six games by Nashville.

”We’re trying to prove ourselves,” said MacKinnon, who missed eight games in February with a shoulder injury. ”I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing – keep getting better by doing the little things. Be very consistent every night and making sure I’m healthy and feeling good.”

That sort of mentality is music to the ears of Avalanche coach Jared Bednar.

”He’s one of the hungriest guys I’ve ever met. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met,” Bednar said. ”He’s hungry to prove that (last season) wasn’t a one-off – that’s who he is. He expects to be even better this year.”

Maybe even the best in the league.

”I’d like to. I’m working for that,” MacKinnon said. ”I’m trying to be the best me, and hopefully that’s the best player in the NHL.”

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

The Buzzer: Miller, Ducks win again; Josi on a tear

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Three stars

1. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

A night after becoming the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller produced a fantastic performance in a 31-save shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

The shutout was Miller’s first of the season and 44th of his career. The Ducks have now won two straight and are three points back of the Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight, including their second straight game being banished from the scoresheet. The Ducks are faring well without John Gibson.

2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Josi scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner, and added an assist in the game for a three-point night

The elite defenseman now has four goals and 11 points in his past eight games for the Predators, who needed a win after going 1-3-1 over their past five games.

The Preds are now just a point back of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division although Winnipeg has three games in hand.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored twice and added an assist in a 4-2 win for the Panthers against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Huberdeau hadn’t scored in eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest and had just one goal in his previous 14.

Florida is nine points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the night

Barkov with another dirty move:

Windmill:

Broke all the ankles:

Factoids

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1098065651539865601

Scores

Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Penguins 4, Devils 3
Lightning 5, Flyers 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Ducks 4, Wild 0
Predators 5, Stars 3
Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 (SO)


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=

O’Reilly scores historic overtime winner as Blues win 11th straight

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And then it was 11.

The St. Louis Blues set a new team record for consecutive wins in emphatic fashion when Ryan O'Reilly went bar down on Frederik Anderson 34 seconds into overtime to down the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on NBCSN on Tuesday.

Mitch Marner came rushing in just before it by Colton Parayko was able to fend him off. O’Reilly was there to intercept Marner’s attempt at a centering pass and it was off to the races for No. 90, who scored his 26th of the season to extend St. Louis’ remarkable streak.

The Blues came into the game riding a three-game shutout streak — because beating teams simply wasn’t enough anymore. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period care of goals from Jaden Schwartz and Parayko.

The game appeared to be heading toward another blank sheet after two periods, but a bad giveaway by Alex Pietrangelo led to Zach Hyman‘s weird angle shot turning into an own goal and bringing an end to the shutout streak at a 2:33:50.

The Leafs were mostly lifeless through the first two periods but Hyman’s goal seemed to be the jolt they needed.

Auston Matthews bagged his 28th of the season just 31 seconds later to tie the game. St. Louis challenged for (non-existent) goaltender interference and the call of a good goal on the ice was upheld.

Jordan Binnington entered the game already having set a Blues rookie record with eight straight wins, including shutouts in his past two outings. ‘Winnington’ could do little on the own goal and Matthews’ goal came off a rebound in front that he couldn’t get to. He managed to stop 31-of-33 shots to extend that record to nine straight.

His personal shutout streak ended at 173:50.

The Blues haven’t trailed in a game since Feb. 5. They were in last place on Jan. 3 but are now six points up on Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division. What a turnaround.

Meanwhile, a massive open-ice hit that Vince Dunn delivered priority mail to Nazem Kadri seems to have put the latter on the shelf.

Dunn drilled Kadri at the 8:48 mark of the first period, but Kadri stayed in the game. He took another shot, this time more of a glancing blow from Brayden Schenn, who had Toronto’s No. 43 in his crosshairs before missing at the last second.

Kadri did not emerge after the first intermission and was ruled out with a concussion not long after.


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

‘Puddy’ bobblehead night includes Puddy face-plant into Devils bench

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Everything was going great for David Puddy at his Bobblehead Night in New Jersey on Tuesday.

‘Puddy’ (actor Patrick Warburton), the legendary face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, known for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody,’ was back inside Prudential Center to rile up the crowd once again.

He dropped the puck during the pre-game ceremony and then proceeded to take his jersey off to rile up the Devils faithful.

And then the Puddy Plant happened:

Puddy handled it like a champ, getting up with an embarrassed smile on his face before a quick bow.

The first 9,000 fans into the arena got their hands on one of these bad boys.

As far as bobbleheads go, this one was pretty cool.

Last April, Puddy made an unexpected visit to New Jersey to cheer on the Devils in their playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.


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

Matt Duchene era likely over in Ottawa, but what of Mark Stone?

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It appears Matt Duchene‘s days as an Ottawa Senator are numbered.

The dynamic forward will be held out of Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils as the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline looms in the close horizon, a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger suggested on Tuesday.

Duchene was brought to the club just last season in a blockbuster three-team deal that saw the Senators ship out Kyle Turris to Nashville and send their first-round pick in the coming 2019 NHL Draft to Colorado, among other pieces.

Duchene struggled out of the gate but regained his form toward the end of the year, the only problem is Ottawa didn’t turn out to be the winner that Duchene wanted to go to. The Senators missed the playoffs a year after reaching the Eastern Conference Final. They then dealt Erik Karlsson in September, and this season has been a horror show ever since — sometimes with Duchene front and center.

Now the Senators, the worst team in the NHL, are poised to not only not have Duchene, but also not have what could very likely be the first-overall pick in June. The Avalanche, meanwhile, could theoretically have two picks in the top 10 (and even top five if they continue to free fall).

It’s been some year in Ottawa, and it’s not over yet.

With Duchene seemingly out of the picture, the Senators have gone full bore at trying to re-sign Mark Stone. Losing one is bad enough. Losing both? It’s doubtful that ‘Senators’ and ‘contender’ will reach the lofty goal set out by owner Eugene Melnyk earlier this month.

And Ryan Dzingel‘s name has been floated around, too.

The 22-goal, 44-point man sits fourth in team scoring this year, with Stone (62 points) and Duchene (58 points) holding down the 1-2 spots. In a worst-case scenario, the team could be without three of its fourth top scorers and its three top-scoring forwards by 3 p.m. ET on Monday.

Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Citizen said the team’s most recent offer is thought to be “serious and comprehensive,” leading to Stone’s camp asking for time to ponder it. Garrioch said it’s likely Stone would be the team’s next captain and it’s centerpiece to build around.

Stone is reportedly wanted by several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets in Stone’s hometown.

If Stone, 26, signs a long-term deal in Ottawa, then he’s going to have to buy into Melnyk’s plan and the plans of general manager Pierre Doiron. The Senators have some decent prospects in their system. If they can find a stud goalie down in short order, perhaps them being in the playoff conversation isn’t all that far off.

But the temptation to have his pick of the litter come July 1st has to be haunting Stone at the moment. The thought of signing long-term in Winnipeg and winning a Stanley Cup for the city he grew up has to be playing heavily on his mind. But really, insert any contender here will to fork out the money, and there’s certainly a few of them.

Stone not being held out of the lineup, like Duchene, may be a good sign at the moment, but there are still 48 hours between now and Ottawa’s game. Things could change in an instant.

We’re down to days and hours until the trade deadline, so the first shoe dropping can’t be all that far off.


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