Jared Bednar

MacKinnon’s ‘hunger’ driving playoff point streak with Avs

Peter DeBoer was pretty happy when Nathan MacKinnon had a single point in Game 3 of his team’s series against MacKinnon’s Colorado Avalanche.

“If we can keep him to one (point) a night, I’ll take that every night in this series,” the San Jose Sharks coach said.

The Sharks picked up the victory on Tuesday, taking a 2-1 series lead after the latest episode of Logan Couture Theatre. But MacKinnon sure put the fear in the Sharks at one point.

The slow-motion replay can barely pick up the puck. The goal also sparked the Avs’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the game. But it was his only point of the game, so DeBoer’s wishes came true.

They won’t every night though.

MacKinnon has recorded a point in seven straight games since the Avs were blanked in Game 1 of their Round 1 series against the Calgary Flames. MacKinnon’s heater is the longest playoff streak by an Avs player since Peter Forsberg in 2004. Forsberg is also the last Avs player to run a postseason streak to eights games (2002).

“He’s got a hunger to his game right now, and he’s working at the point of the puck and he’s working away from it,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He wants the puck. He’s one of those guys, he is trying to get available and working for the puck all the time because he wants it. He wants to be a difference-maker. We need a few more guys to follow suit with that.”

Playing at nearing a two-point-per-game pace since Game 1 last round, MacKinnon has been electric and shares the lead in playoff scoring with four others, including Couture, at 12 points.

Truth is, every time MacKinnon touches the puck and has some space, it’s a hold-your-breath-type moment. And he’s creating all sorts of scoring chances.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun did a quick poll of fellow NHL superstars and, well, MacKinnon is the man they’re all watching.

“My favorite player to watch right now is MacKinnon,” Patrick Kane said.

“He’s dominating,” added fellow Cole Harbour native Sidney Crosby.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“MacKinnon is probably the most fun to watch right now,” Connor McDavid explained.

MacKinnon will certainly be a key to Game 4 success for the Avs (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN). But there’s a lot to clean up from Tuesday’s game, Bednar said.

“We made some bonehead decisions with the puck, too, at times,” he said. “The bulk of their scoring chances come off turnover plays and mismanaging the puck and just poor execution.”

Finding some success on the power play will help, too. The Avs were 0-for-4 in that department in Game 3 and Bednar wasn’t holding back his opinion of what the man-advantage looked like for Colorado.

“It was bad,” he said. “It was bad through the neutral zone… it’s pretty obvious for us as a team after looking at the video what we need to do. Our execution was poor. Our support was poor. We just didn’t make the right decisions with the puck in the neutral zone.”

Colorado has never come back from a series where they’ve trailed 3-1 (like their power play in Game 3, they’re 0-for-4 in that scenario).

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

Colorado Collapse: What’s eating the Avalanche?

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Typically, the U.S. Thanksgiving break serves as a solid benchmark in the NHL for which teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For this year’s Colorado Avalanche, a peek at the standings on the final day of November would prove that Colorado was tied with Nashville in points atop the Central Division. But since Dec. 1, the Avalanche are 7-15-3 (17 points), which is the worst mark in the league. Here in early February, they’re on the outside looking in, two points back of Vancouver in the Western Conference wild card race, after the Canucks defeated them 5-1 on Saturday.

Here’s a deeper look at how the Avalanche problems have (ahem) snowballed:

Top Heavy

Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen make up arguably the best line in the game. Entering Colorado’s matchup with Vancouver over the weekend, the trio had combined for 199 points (79 goals, 120 assists) after all three had been named All-Stars. But head coach Jared Bednar split them up for the Canucks game, looking to spread a bit of the wealth. Alexander Kerfoot started on the top line in Landeskog’s spot along with MacKinnon and Colin Wilson, while the Avalanche captain played left wing on the second line with Carl Soderberg at center and Rantanen on right wing. It lasted less than 20 minutes, as Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen were reunited by the end of the first period after Colorado had fallen behind 2-0.

Since the start of December, Landeskog (26 points), MacKinnon (30) and Rantanen (31) have combined for 87 points. During that span, all other Colorado forwards have combined for 69 points. Outside of the big three and Soderberg – who has a career-best 17 goals this season – the Avs have struggled to produce up front. That lack of depth will make it difficult for them to turn things around and make a playoff push.

Power Play

Through Nov. 30, the Avalanche had the best power play in the league, with the man advantage clicking at a whopping 31.4 percent, or 27-for-86 in 26 games. In the following 25 games since Dec. 1, Colorado has 20 power play goals, despite 18 more power play opportunities (20-for-104). While it is unreasonable to expect that the Avs would have continued their torrid pace from earlier in the year, the dip in production on the man advantage helps explain why Colorado’s overall goals per game has slid from 3.73 through November (tied for best in the league with Tampa Bay) to 2.92 since.

Goalie Struggles

Colorado has allowed three or more goals 33 times in 51 games, so defensive structure has certainly been an issue this season. Still, the Avalanche has also failed to get big saves from either of their goaltenders. Since early December, Semyon Varlamov is 4-8-2 with an .875 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average. That save percentage is the worst among all netminders who have played at least 10 games in that span.

Philipp Grubauer – who was signed during the off-season to a three-year, $10 million deal – hasn’t been any better with a 3-5-1 record, an .878 save percentage and 3.68 goals against average during that same stretch.

After regulation

Get this, the Avs are 1-7 in overtime this season and 0-1 in shootouts. Those are precious points they’ve left on the table in a conference with playoff spots ripe for the taking.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Avalanche, also owns the Los Angeles Rams. On the bright side, if the Avs get just three points, they’d be back in the playoffs.