Avs’ Cale Makar scores in playoff debut days after Frozen Four

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Cale Makar is having himself a week.

After falling just short of an NCAA title with the University of Massachusetts on Saturday, Makar signed a rookie deal with the Colorado Avalanche, and it probably would have been impressive enough that he managed to suit up for Game 3 against the Calgary Flames.

Makar decided that wasn’t enough. The 20-year-old defenseman scored a goal to put Colorado up 3-0 in Game 3, with assists from Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Kerfoot. (MacKinnon, remarkably scored two goals and one assist during the first period alone, carrying over his momentum from producing a thrilling overtime-winner in Game 2.)

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You can watch Makar’s first goal in his first game (playoffs or otherwise) in the video above this post’s headline. Game 3 is airing on CNBC (Stream here).

Makar was the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He logged 5:24 TOI during the first period, not much less than veteran defenseman Erik Johnson (6:06). That time could be inflated by some power-play work, but it’s an interesting show of trust from Colorado. Considering the Avs’ so-so defense, Makar could be quite a boost – not just in the future, but also the present.

More: Avalanche add Makar, who also won the Hobey Baker this season, by the way.

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.

Oilers’ season captured in second-period meltdown

Associated Press
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If there ever was a seven-minute stretch that perfectly summed up the Edmonton Oilers’ 2018-19 season, it happened on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Leading 2-0 nothing in the second period, and with a goal already in the bank by Milan Lucic — the $6 million man’s sixth of the season — the Oilers reverted to their true colors in a span of 7:08.

A promising looking contest, one day after Connor McDavid declared that he was “really, really” frustrated with how this season has gone in Edmonton, the Oilers forgot how to play hockey and Mikko Koskinen forgot how to stop pucks and the walls came crashing in. Again.

The result was four-straight goals from the Avalanche in an epic collapse for Edmonton, even by their own lowly standards.

Nathan MacKinnon walked through three Oilers who were just standing still for the 2-1 goal. The tying goal came when Koskinen, who was handed a silly contract extension earlier this season, whiffed on what should have been a routine save on Tyson Barrie.

Alex Kerfoot scored the go-ahead goal after he was left unmarked in front of Koskinen. The insurance marker came on a backhand from the high slot off the stick of Colin Wilson, another puck that needed to be stopped.

And then there was the defeated skate by 100-plus point man McDavid back to the Edmonton bench. It’s ugly in northern Alberta, and who knows how the Oilers — a cash-strapped team when it comes to the salary cap — get out of this mess. Two 100-point players (Leon Draisaitl being the other) and the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the second straight season with the best player in the world in their lineup.

If nothing else, it’s a shame for hockey fans who want to see McDavid’s talents while he chases down a Stanley Cup.

Instead, they’re left with efforts like Tuesday night. As McDavid said on Monday, “It’s just not good enough.”


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

The Buzzer: Karlsson injury scare; Robbed by Lehner

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Three Stars

1. Robin Lehner

When it comes to the shocking success of the Islanders, a lot of credit’s going to Barry Trotz, and rightfully so.

When a head coach wins the Jack Adams by helping an underdog overachieve heavily, they almost always enjoy over-the-top great goaltending from their netminders. That’s been the case for the Islanders, as Lehner and Thomas Greiss have essentially been equally brilliant in 2018-19.

It becomes a chicken-and-the-egg situation when it comes to trying to meter out praise. How much is it Trotz’s system? How much of this comes from goalie guru Mitch Korn? And how much does it boil down to Lehner and Greiss stopping everything?

Other goalies had shutouts on Saturday, with Sergei Bobrovsky doing so not just in back-to-back games, but consecutive days. Lehner had to work the hardest for his, however, making 36 saves.

2. Sam Reinhart

With a small group of players generating three points on Saturday, it was difficult to determine who deserved to round out the top three.

At first, it seemed like Reinhart might be someone you’d surprisingly dismiss. While he generated a hat trick (the third of his career), that third goal came on an empty-netter. Kind of a cheat, right?

Well, check out where he shot the puck from:

OK, that seems like a worthy hat trick.

3. Nathan MacKinnon

Jakub Voracek deserves consideration, what with scoring with 20 seconds remaining to send the Flyers’ eventual, stunning win into overtime. MacKinnon’s teammate Alex Kerfoot also managed a three-point game.

But MacKinnon holds a few advantages. While Kerfoot and Voracek managed one-goal, two-assist games, MacKinnon generated two goals and one assist. Also, while Voracek scored a game-tying goal, MacKinnon had the GWG for Colorado. He managed six shots on goal, matching Voracek’s robust offering.

MacKinnon now has 32 goals and 80 points in just 62 games, lining him up with an opportunity to pass last year’s career-best 39 goals and 97 points (in just 74 games), and maybe hit 100 for the first time in his young career.

If you wanted Voracek in the top three

Enjoy these highlights from that wild Philly win.

Erik Karlsson hurt again?

It seemed like Erik Karlsson pulled or tweaked something in San Jose’s 4-0 loss to Columbus. It’s too early to know for sure, but Sharks coach Peter DeBoer seemed concerned.

If this is an issue, it’s been a tough one for guys who could finish high in the Norris voting, as Kris Letang was injured in Pittsburgh’s painful loss.

Highlights

Jordan Binnington continues to be quite astounding for the St. Louis Blues.

Matt Duchene‘s first Blue Jackets goal was as much about Artemi Panarin‘s slick moves as anything else.

We already covered Gritty’s entrance, but the true highlight might be how he was forced to exit the 2019 Stadium Series.

Factoids

  • This puts the strong start to Mitch Marner‘s career into perspective.

https://twitter.com/StatsCentre/status/1099548438168027136

Scores

BUF 5 – WSH 2
NYR 5 – NJD 2
STL 2 – BOS 1 (SO)
CAR 3 – DAL 0
FLA 6 – LAK 1
CBJ 4 – SJS 0
COL 5 – NSH 0
TOR 6 – MTL 3
PHI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
NYI 4 – VAN 0
EDM 2 – ANA 1

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.

‘Stale’ Avalanche split up MacKinnon, Rantanen

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The Colorado Avalanche are struggling, so coach Jared Bednar decided to try to spread the wealth.

Bednar’s experimented before, but in the last instance, it just meant moving Gabriel Landeskog off of the team’s explosive first line, giving Tyson Jost and others opportunities to stick with stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

This time around, Bednar is making a bolder move: Rantanen’s going with Landeskog to Carl Soderberg‘s line, with MacKinnon centering Alex Kerfoot and Colin Wilson. (The trio will still operate together on the power play, though.)

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that Bednar consulted with his top stars before making the tweaks, with MacKinnon explaining that “we’ve gotten stale.”

“The team hasn’t had a lot of success here recently so we’re trying something new,” Bednar said. “Talked to those guys about it and they’re really open to it. So we’re trying to put some combinations together that gives us a little bit of depth and see if we can get some of those top guys to drag some of our other guys along, get us moving in the right direction and get some guys excited about playing with them. So we’ll give it a try.”

The Avalanche organization should look at this as a great opportunity to collect some data about Rantanen in particular, as the 22-year-old is headed toward a huge raise, being that his rookie contract will expire after 2018-19.

Can Rantanen carry his own line? Chances are, the answer is likely “yes,” but he hasn’t really been asked to do so just yet.

According to Natural Stat Trick, he’s only spent 51:13 of even-strength time away from MacKinnon this season, versus 736:09 with the speedy center. Rantanen’s numbers with Landeskog are nearly identical, and things are just as lopsided when you add 2017-18 minutes.

The good news is that, even if Rantanen “breaks the bank,” the Avs are still sitting pretty compared to how other teams pay for elite talent. MacKinnon, 23, is probably the best non-rookie-contract bargain in the NHL, as his $6.3 million cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2022-23 campaign. Landeskog, 26, costs a bit less than $5.56M per season, and he’s locked up through 2020-21.

Even so, the more values you pile up, the better you improve your chances to add better talent around that big three. That’s especially true if the Avs are working with an internal budget below the cap ceiling.

Splitting up those top players is about more than getting a better gauge on what Rantanen is worth.

How effective could the Avs’ attack be when they split Rantanen and MacKinnon on two lines, versus the current standard of loading up? Would Landeskog mix better with MacKinnon or Rantanen?

Getting more insight in that regard could help steer the Avalanche’s future moves. If Rantanen really clicks with Soderberg, or MacKinnon can prop up less dynamic linemates in a Connor McDavid-like way, then GM Joe Sakic might alter what kind of players he tries to acquire, whether that would be at the trade deadline or (more likely) during the summer.

So, while the Avalanche are likely frustrated right now, these challenges could inspire the sort of innovation that might help this team find another gear.

It might end up being wiser to go with that super line approach, particularly with plenty of other teams also loading up in that way, but maybe Colorado will stumble upon an even better solution with this approach?

The Avalanche return to NHL action when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks and Avalanche meet for the first time this season in a matchup of teams that would each be in the playoffs if the season ended today but enter the new year on very different paths. San Jose won nine of 15 games in December (9-4-2) including a 7-2-2 stretch in its last 11. Colorado, on the other hand, is mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and has lost nine of its last 11 games (2-6-3).

San Jose has been streaky over the last five weeks or so, losing four straight at the end of November into December followed by winning seven of eight and then losing three straight prior to Christmas before winning two in-a-row ahead of Monday’s loss.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 23 goals. The 34-year-old finished with 22 goals last season in a full 82 games. Pavelski picked a good time to be on a career pace (on track for 46 goals – career high is 41 from 2013-14), since he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Avs are led by their trio – what was known as the MGM line – of Landeskog, last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up in MacKinnon and rising star Rantanen. Like the team, the three of them have come a long way since Colorado’s disastrous 2016-17 season when they finished last in the NHL.

Rantanen ranks second in the NHL in points and MacKinnon sits third. Not since Evgeni Malkin (1st) and Sidney Crosby (3rd) in 2008-09 has a pair of teammates finished in the top three in scoring in the same season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin LabancBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

AVALANCHE
Tyson JostNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
Gabriel LandeskogAlex KerfootJ.T. Compher
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque – Sheldon Dries – Logan O’Connor

Sam GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeTyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth – Ryan Graves

Starting goaliePhilipp Grubauer

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Sharks-Avalanche from Pepsi Center.