Gabriel Landeskog

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Avs hold breath about MacKinnon after blowing out Predators

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The Colorado Avalanche boast one of the best lines in the NHL, but right now, all three of those forwards are banged up.

Nathan MacKinnon‘s injury tarnished the Avs’ 9-4 blowout of the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and adds to a troubling trio of injuries, as the team was already dealing without Mikko Rantanen (week-to-week) and Gabriel Landeskog (out indefinitely).

While the Avalanche figure to be without Rantanen and Landeskog for some time, the hope is that MacKinnon’s upper-body injury won’t be major. The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark reports that Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon was held out from the remainder of Thursday’s lopsided game for precautionary reasons. Could that mean that this won’t be major for MacKinnon? The Avs certainly have to hope so.

Clark also reports that defenseman Nikita Zadorov‘s status is unknown after suffering an upper-body injury of his own.

The Avalanche made big, bold investments in surrounding that super-line with other talent, and many of those players shined bright against the Predators.

MacKinnon actually had a tremendous game even though it was truncated, as the speedy center scored one goal and three assists for four points. He fired 10 SOG on Thursday, and seemed driven to score against the defending Central Division champs:

Key offseason addition Joonas Donskoi managed a hat trick, while both Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Remarkably, the Predators were actually up 3-2 at the 4:55 mark of the second period, and then Colorado erupted with a ludicrous six goals in eight minutes:

As important as Landeskog and especially Rantanen is to that top line, MacKinnon is the biggest star on the Avs, and one of the NHL’s brightest overall. Colorado is better positioned to withstand another loss in 2019-20 than the Avs were in 2018-19, but the prospect of missing all three first-liners is daunting.

The Avalanche have to be crossing their fingers that further MacKinnon updates end up being as prominent as that “precautionary” word was.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Top-line injuries to Blues and Avalanche shake up Central

Not long after the St. Louis Blues raised their Stanley Cup banner and the Colorado Avalanche got rolling on a season of high expectations each team has a significant obstacle to overcome.

The Blues will be without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko for five months, basically the rest of the regular season. The Avalanche – already missing injured winger Mikko Rantanen – ruled out captain Gabriel Landeskog indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to top-line players on two Central Division powerhouses could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference for months.

”It shakes things up big time,” said retired forward Patrick Sharp, who spent 12+ of his 15 NHL seasons playing in the Central. ”It’s going to test the depth of these two teams.”

Tarasenko underwent right shoulder surgery Tuesday. The Russian winger scored 11 goals and added 15 assists on the Blues’ Cup run and is difficult to replace.

St. Louis will try to compensate but not by leaning too hard on playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly and fellow stars Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. The onus is on the likes of Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri to step up.

”Our team is built as the sum of all the parts,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”We’re going to have to have a strength in numbers (approach), and I believe that we can get it done.”

Sharp, who played 65 games against the Blues and watched their Cup triumph as an NBC Sports analyst, doesn’t doubt that. Because of Tarasenko’s production 5-on-5 and on the power play, he said losing him will test their offensive depth. He is looking specifically to Thomas to fill the void.

”The numbers didn’t really reflect the kind of playoffs that he had, but it seemed like every big game that the Blues had, Robert Thomas was one of the best forwards on the team,” Sharp said. ”If he can kind of recapture that playoff magic and show it in the next five, six months of the regular season, the Blues will be in good shape.”

Colorado opened the season 8-2-1 but will need to tread water until Rantanen and Landeskog return. First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is a one-man playmaker who no doubt benefits from having Rantanen and Landeskog and will have to be at his best – and try to stay healthy.

Much like the Blues, though, the Avalanche can’t put the pressure on one player.

”We have a significant amount of players that want more and feel like they’re playing real well,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”I’m hoping they strive in situations like this and prove that they can take on a bigger role. … Having everyone dig in and try to step up their game, and make up for the guys that are out of the lineup is an important piece to winning especially if you’re going to try and sustain it over the course of the season.”

Knowing Colorado couldn’t be a one-line team and contend for the Cup, GM Joe Sakic traded for Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky and signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to bolster his forward depth.

”These injuries to top players, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about the landscape of an eight-month season for Colorado,” Sharp said. ”If they have aspirations of going deep in the playoffs, they’re going to need big contributions from everybody. So a little adversity at the start of the year doesn’t hurt anybody.”

It might help the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars in the stacked Central Division. Predators center Matt Duchene on Tuesday night returned from a brief absence with a lower-body injury.

LANDESKOG X2

Colorado’s captain isn’t the only injured Landeskog. The horse by the same name was scratched from the upcoming $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

”Horse always comes first,” Avalanche defenseman and racehorse part-owner Erik Johnson tweeted. ”Bad day for Landeskog human and equine.”

Told of Landeskog’s human namesake also being hurt, trainer Doug O’Neill said, ”Maybe it’s twin pain.”

JOSI DOMINOES

Roman Josi‘s eight-year extension with the Predators worth $9.1 million a season will have a ripple effect on other top pending free agent defensemen like Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston’s Torey Krug.

Since all three were full-time NHL players beginning in 2013, Josi has 327 points and averaged 25:30 of ice time, Pietrangelo has 284 points and averaged 25:19 and Krug has 294 points and averaged 25:30.

”Every contract is relative when you’re talking about comparable players,” said agent Mark Guy, who represents Pietrangelo. ”Obviously whenever you go through and you sit down and negotiate with a team, players and teams have comparables that they shoot towards, and Josi and Alex are obviously in most people’s minds comparable players.”

Landeskog the hockey horse out of Breeders’ Cup Sprint

ARCADIA, Calif. — Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson won’t have a rooting interest in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Landeskog, a 3-year-old gelding co-owned by Johnson, has been scratched from the six-furlong race because trainer Doug O’Neill wasn’t happy with how he trained Tuesday.

O’Neill says a nuclear scan and X-rays on Landeskog came back clean, but he still decided to pass on Saturday’s race.

O’Neill says Johnson and the other owners ”made it easy to do the right thing. They said the horse comes first.”

Landeskog was 12-1 on the morning line. He’s named after Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog.

NBC Sports this weekend presents 10.5 hours of live coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships – the richest two days in horse racing – with $30 million in prize money at stake. Highlighting the coverage is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic this Saturday, Nov. 2, live from Santa Anita at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

On Friday and Saturday, NBC Sports presents live coverage of 13 races at the 36th Breeders’ Cup World Championships on NBC and NBCSN.

NHL injury roundup: Landeskog out indefinitely; Zibanejad out for Rangers

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The Colorado Avalanche’s forward depth is about to be put to the test.

Already playing without Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche announced on Tuesday that another key part of their feared top-line is going to be sidelined indefinitely. Gabriel Landeskog will not play in Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers and will be out “indefinitely” according to the team as he recovers from an undisclosed lower-body injury. 

He played 20 minutes in the Avalanche’s 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, recording four shots on goal and finishing as a minus-2.

For the past two years the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog has been one of the most dominant lines in the league and has at times single-handedly carried the Avalanche. Since the start of the 2017-18 season they have played more than 1,600 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together as a trio, outscoring teams by a 97-61 margin during those minutes and completely dictating the pace of the game.

In recent years being without two of them would have probably been enough to sink the Avalanche’s chances due to their lack of depth, but thanks to the offseason additions of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky they actually have some solid secondary scoring options and are not quite as dependent on their big three.

They also still have MacKinnon — their best player — and he should still be able to make an impact, even without his two regular wingers.

The Avalanche entered the season as one of the top favorites in the Western Conference and have been one of the league’s best teams.

Landeskog’s injury is not the only significant one around the NHL on Tuesday.

Mika Zibanejad will not play for Rangers on Tuesday

Offense has been a struggle for the New York Rangers so far this season and this is not going to help things.

They are expected to be without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played just six minutes against the Boston Bruins in the Rangers’ most recent game and is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

He is the Rangers’ top point-producer this season with 11 points in nine games, though he has cooled off considerably after a fast start in the team’s first two games.

The team has recalled Filip Chytil from the American Hockey League and he is expected to play alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.

On the other side of that game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli are both game-time decisions but that he does not expect either issue to be long-term (via Lightning analyst Caley Chelios).

Sidney Crosby will play for Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a little bit of a scare on Saturday night when captain Sidney Crosby was hit in the side of the face by a slap shot, briefly leaving the game before returning.

Crosby is expected to play for the Penguins on Tuesday night against the Flyers but may wear a protective shield over his jaw. He skated with it in practice but is unsure if he wants to wear it during the game due to limited vision. The Penguins are finally starting to get healthy and could get defenseman Brian Dumoulin and winger Alex Galchenyuk back in the lineup for Tuesday against the Flyers.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Avalanche crush Golden Knights in first game without Rantanen: 3 takeaways

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The Colorado Avalanche are sending a pretty strong message to the rest of the Western Conference — and the league as a whole — in the first month of the season.

That message: All of the preseason hype was accurate.

They played their first game without star forward Mikko Rantanen on Friday night and never missed a beat in a complete demolition of the Vegas Golden Knights, rolling to a 6-1 win that was as one-sided as any game in the NHL this season. It was already the third time this season Colorado has scored at least six goals in a single game, while they owned a commanding 40-26 edge on the shot chart.

What all stood out?

1. Nathan MacKinnon‘s point streak continues. With two assists on Friday, MacKinnon was able to extend his points streak to 10 consecutive games to open the season. He officially extended it with a helper on Cale Makar‘s first career regular season goal, then added another helper on Nazem Kadri‘s power play goal. MacKinnon already has 14 points in the Avalanche’s first 10 games this season and continues to be a dominant force in the middle of their lineup. Just for comparisons sake he only had five points through the first 10 games in 2017-18 (when he finished with 97 points in 74 games) and 15 points a year ago (when he finished with 99 points in 82 games.

2. The improved depth is a game changer. With MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog the Avalanche have had the most dominant top line in the league for a couple of years now, but one line can only take a team so far. They needed help around them, and the Avalanche addressed that over the summer. Their second line on Friday featured all new additions with Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi, and all have already made significant contributions this season. Kadri alone scored two goals on Friday. That has allowed everyone else to get pushed down into more suitable roles and created a far more balanced lineup.

3. Cale Makar already looks like a star. With Tyson Barrie now in Toronto the Avalanche have turned a lot of their blue line over to the youngsters Makar and Sam Girard. Makar has been spectacular this year and was especially dominant on Friday. He scored a goal — giving him nine points in 10 games — and helped the Avalanche control close to 70 percent of the total shot attempts when he was on the ice. He figures to be a player in the Rookie of the Year race all season and is a huge addition to an already great core.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.