MacKinnon, Avs are frustrated; should they be worried?

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In the late stages of the Avs’ 5-3 loss to the Flames on Wednesday, Nathan MacKinnon lost his cool in a way that felt strangely “on-brand” for one of the NHL’s goofiest superstars.

The elite forward who tends to be the comic foil for Sidney Crosby in Tim Hortons commercials was fuming at Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, with cameras seemingly catching him saying “do your job.” Captain Gabriel Landeskog felt the need to restrain MacKinnon, which provided a moment of comic relief, as MacKinnon briefly fell off the bench.

(I giggle every time I see it.)

Top line remains top-shelf

But that comical moment shouldn’t totally steal the show, as MacKinnon has every right to be frustrated.

Much is made of Connor McDavid seemingly being on an island on an often-incompetently run Oilers team (does his current look lean “disgruntled” or merely “hockey player disheveled?”), but don’t sleep on the situation brewing in Colorado.

When you realize that the Avalanche have only won one of their last nine games (1-6-2), you might assume that there’s not much jelly left in the “asking MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Landeskog to do everything, maybe hope for great goaltending” donut. That was my assumption.

That doesn’t really hold much water, though.

MacKinnon has seven points in four January games. He extended his point streak to eight games with a goal against the Flames, giving him 66 points in 44 games, tying him with Johnny Gaudreau for third in the NHL. Rantanen has even more, as his 68 points trails only Nikita Kucherov‘s ludcrious 71.

Nate is asserting himself in various ways, including firing an Alex Ovechkin-like 4.64 shots on goal per game. He leads all NHL players with a blistering 204 SOG, with Patrick Kane ranking a distant second at 177.

When you remember that MacKinnon’s contract is downright theft ($6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, amazingly), can you really fault him for being frustrated?

Really, maybe Bednar could be “doing his job” by finding more support behind that top line and sneakily-deadly offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie.

As PHT discussed recently, it may not be the worst idea to experiment with ways to spread the wealth. Perhaps such mad science would be deemed “messing with a good thing,” yet while Bednar’s tried Landeskog on a lower line, MacKinnon and Rantanen remain attached at the hip.

There’s a lot to like about the speedy way the Avs play, but maybe some stones remain unturned?

Beyond that, the bigger question might be: is GM Joe Sakic the one who needs to start “doing his job” to get MacKinnon and Rantanen more help?

Some perspective on their struggles

You can essentially break down this season so far into four quadrants. They started off hot at 6-1-2, only to sink to 7-6-3. After that, there was another surge, pushing them to 17-7-5, and inspiring optimism about possibly even pushing for a division title. Now they’re merely hoping to hold onto a playoff spot at 20-16-8 (48 points in 44 games). They definitely have a shot at catching the Stars (50 points in 44 games, 23 regulation/overtime wins) for the third spot in the Central, yet they must at least eye upstarts for their current spot:

Taking a look at Puck on Net’s handy stats, the Avalanche have actually been a bit better possession-wise (middle of the pack, if not top third in the league) during their recent slump than they had been before (roughly bottom third).

The difference is that their goaltending has really plummeted. During the last month, Philipp Grubauer is 2-4-1 with a lousy .876 save percentage, and Semyon Varlamov has struggled even more (1-2-2, .867). On the bright side, it’s unlikely for Colorado’s goaltending to be that bad going forward, yet let’s be honest: the Avs’ defense isn’t threatening the likes of the Predators’ and Lightning’s corps for the title of deepest and best.

Do your job

So, should Sakic consider making investments around trade deadline time?

Via Cap Friendly, you can see that the Avalanche have all of their 2019 NHL Draft picks except their fourth-rounder. The Matt Duchene trade netted them what could be a luxurious first-rounder from Ottawa, and they also have the Senators’ third-rounder.

There’s a lucid argument that maybe Sakic simply views the Avalanche as what they likely are: a work in progress. Why give up futures if you don’t think you really have a chance?

That’s fine, but who knows how often you’ll get truly world-beating work from MacKinnon and Rantanen. Yes, they’re frighteningly young for opponents (MacKinnon’s still just 23, while Rantanen is somehow only 22), but they’re setting a high bar that any duo would struggle to clear.

There’s also some Marner/Matthews logic at play for the Avalanche. Rantanen’s in the last year of his rookie deal, so he won’t be cheap for much longer. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to take advantage of this final bargain year by rolling the dice a bit?

Imagine how scary an Avalanche team could be if they didn’t just have MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog, but also some scoring balance? That’s the sort of thing that could make their opponents’ jobs quite miserable.

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.

Matthews, MacKinnon, McDavid, Ovechkin voted 2019 NHL All-Star Game captains

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Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have been voted captains of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game.

Matthews (Atlantic), Ovechkin (Metropolitan), MacKinnon (Central), and McDavid (Pacific) will represent their divisions during the annual three-game, 3-on-3 tournament to be held at SAP Center in San Jose, Jan. 25-26. This will be the second All-Star Game appearance for Matthews, the third for both MacKinnon and McDavid, and the seventh for Ovechkin.

The four teams will be comprised of 11 players — six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies. The NHL’s Hockey Operations Department will fill out the rest of the rosters at a later date, which will likely then be followed the injury replacement announcements.

Fans elected the four players in during the Dec. 1-23 voting period. How many votes did each earn? Who else was in the running? We don’t know as the NHL did not release totals or a weekly leaderboard as they have in previous years.

The head coach with the highest points percentage in each division at the halfway point of the NHL regular season will get to work the bench in San Jose.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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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.

Nathan MacKinnon on breakout season, hitting 40 goals (PHT Q&A)

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Nathan MacKinnon may never be the most famous hockey player from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia but coming in second to Sidney Crosby isn’t so bad. 

The Colorado Avalanche star met the Pittsburgh Penguins captain through trainer Andy O’Brien when he was 15. Through workouts back home and off-season skating, the two have become good pals. 

“We have a good thing going,” MacKinnon said. “We push each other. He makes me a lot better, he pushes me hard.”

Their friendship has resulted in a friendly rivalry and new Tim Hortons commercials every year.

As part of one the best lines in hockey this season, MacKinnon is tied for third in NHL scoring with nine goals and 18 points. One of his linemates, Gabriel Landeskog, is tied for the league lead in goals scored with 11. Mikko Rantanen? Well, he’s only the current Art Ross Trophy leader with 21 points.

That top line for the Avalanche just picked up where they left off last season that saw the 23-year-old MacKinnon get a June trip to Las Vegas as one of the three Hart Trophy finalists.

We spoke with MacKinnon earlier this season about his breakout year, playing for Jared Bednar, hitting 40 goals and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Two things happened last year. One was you exploded, and two, the Avalanche yo-yo’d back up into the playoffs. Where did the personal turnaround come from?

MACKINNON: “I just think it was experience. It was my fifth year in the league and I just feel I was ready to be an elite player and I hope I can stay there. I just tried to figure out the — I know it’s cliché — but the highs and lows, it’s a real thing. It’s a long season, there’s so many games. You can definitely ride highs and get really low as well. But I feel like I’m in the middle now, I’m not satisfied and I’m not too down on myself at the same time.”

Q. Was there something specific in your game that changed? Your skating couldn’t possibly get better, but were there other things that might have physically changed in your game?

MACKINNON: Not physically, just mentally. I just wanted to be really aggressive on the ice and I wouldn’t say take risks, but just be aggressive and assert myself in the game and stay positive. That’s pretty much it. I think my physical tools might have gotten a little bit better, but nothing drastic. 

Q. How do you insert yourself more into a game? How do you be more aggressive?

MACKINNON:  “I just think by shooting more, having more of a selfish attitude with the puck and taking it yourself. It might be throwing ahead or just being aggressive in everything you do on the ice is my mentality.”

Q. What makes Jared Bednar a good coach?

MACKINNON: “Well, he’s very personable. He’s a great dude, he’s very easy to talk to. He’s kind of the new style of coach, I think, just very relatable, a player’s coach, and lets you play. But you know he also can come down on you a little bit, but ‘Bedsy’s’ a great guy.”

Q. You were real close to 40 goals last season. Do 40 goals matter? Do you still look at these milestones or are you just playing?

MACKINNON: “I mean it’s tough. It would’ve been cool to get 40 and 100 or whatever it was, but just didn’t happen. I’d be lying, I’d love to get there one day, but I think 50’s a big milestone, not 40.”

MORE: Mikko Rantanen turning into ‘driving force’ for Avalanche

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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.

Nathan MacKinnon would get P.K. Subban’s MVP vote

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Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban just got a good, in-depth look at Nathan MacKinnon, after they went head-to-head during a six-game series in the opening round of the playoffs.

Subban’s Nashville Predators got the better of MacKinnon’s Colorado Avlanche, but that doesn’t take away from how Subban views the Avs forward and his chances of winning the Hart Trophy this year.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“You guys know I’m biased about [Pekka Rinne], but in my opinion, he was the best player in the league this year,” Subban said of MacKinnon, per Tracey Myers of NHL.com. “That’s not to take away anything from other guys like Taylor Hall who have had great years. But I think for him and what he’s done with this team, a team that’s been up and down…he’s just come into his own and he’s a phenomenal hockey player. He’s so tough to handle, so fast, strong and shifty. My expectations for him as a player as a player is to be a hall of famer by the end of his career. He understands that. Just tremendous respect for him. I just told him I hope he takes home that trophy that he deserves as the MVP. He deserves it.”

MacKinnon’s 97 points during the regular season was the fifth-highest in the league this season. It’s important to note that he played between four and six games less than the four guys who finished ahead of him.

In the postseason, The 22-year-old had three goals and three assists in six games against the Predators.

There’s many reasons for Colorado’s turnaround in 2017-18, but there’s no denying that MacKinnon’s play was the biggest factor. His points-per-game jumped from 0.65 last year to 1.31 this year.  The Avalanche went from being the worst team in the NHL by a mile to finishing in a Wild Card spot.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Maple Leafs, Devils, Avalanche record important wins; Ducks embarrassed

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Monday’s results

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 2 (Bruins lead series 2-1): Patrick Marleau scored a pair and Frederik Andersen made 40 saves in a must-win for the Maple Leafs. Boston had dominated both outings at TD Garden, with the Leafs giving up 12 goals over both games and forcing Mike Babcock to pull Anderson in the first period in Game 2 after allowing four goals on seven shots. Andersen was back between the pipes on Monday, and although he allowed two gifts early on, he settled in to aid in the win. Auston Matthews scored his first of the series and David Pastrnak was held pointless after his six-point outing on Saturday. In fact, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak failed to record a point after putting up a whopping 20 over Games 1 and 2.

Devils 5, Lightning 2 (Lightning lead series 2-1): Speaking of teams needing a win and better goaltending… The Devils found themselves down 2-0 after allowing five goals in each of Game 1 and Game 2 in Florida. John Hynes elected to make a switch in net after Devils playoff starter Keith Kinkaid was yanked after 33 minutes in Game 2. Cory Schneider stopped 34-of-36 en route to his first win in 2018. Taylor Hall had a goal and two assists in the game.

Avalanche 5, Predators 3 (Predators lead series 2-1):  Take a team that plays very well at home and a player who scores a lot of his points at home and you get a Colorado Avalanche win thanks to two goals by Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. The Avs scored three times in the first period. MacKinnon’s second of the game early in the second period stood as the game-winner.

Sharks 8, Ducks 1 (Sharks lead series 3-0): The Anaheim Ducks need a miracle after Monday’s embarrassment. After losing both games at home to the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks put up a stinker in Monday’s loss. John Gibson didn’t get any help and then he was pulled after allowing five on 24 shots. The Ducks looked disinterested after a while and the Sharks feasted as a result. Joonas Donskoi had a goal and two assists to lead the way. Martin Jones was stellar when called upon, stopping 45 of 46.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three stars

Patrick Marleau, Maple Leafs: Toronto needed someone to step up and it came through their elder statesman in Marleau, who notched a pair as the Maple Leafs rode to victory to help stave off a 3-0 deficit.

Taylor Hall, Devils: Hall scored unassisted to tie the game in 1-1 in the first period and then was the primary assist on Will Butcher‘s game-tying goal in the second and Stefan Noesen‘s eventual game-winner later in the period. A solid outing from the Hart Trophy candidate.

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche: There’s a strong case to be made here for Martin Jones, who set a franchise record for a playoff game with 45 saves, but MacKinnon’s two goals propelled the Avs to a much-needed victory after coming into Monday’s action down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Predators. MacKinnon and the Avs have been money at Pepsi Center this season and that held true in their win on Monday. Sorry, Martin.

Highlights of the Night

First and foremost, this:

Them moves:

Eric Fehr scored. Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you:

Nice feed, nice goal:

Factoids of the Night

Old-man Marleau turning back the clock:

Also, old-man Chara:

Look who made the trip!

Tuesday’s schedule

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Blue Jackets lead 2-0
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC) – Jets lead 2-1
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) – Golden Knights lead 3-0


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