Coming off a hard-fought victory at home, the Colorado Avalanche enjoyed a more laid back practice than normal as only two-thirds of the roster participated in today's session. With another practice tomorrow before the team leaves for Las Vegas for Friday afternoon's showdown with the Golden Knights, the Avs took it easy today with light on-ice work.
For Colorado's top line, led by center Nathan MacKinnon, it was a day to clear their head after struggling against one of the NHL's premier partnerships last night in the Dallas Stars' killer duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Primetime matchups like that are one contributor to a slow start for the speedy 22-year-old, who has scored just five points in his first nine games.
"It's a challenge," MacKinnon admitted of the matchup hell they faced last night. "If we're not on our 'A' game defensively, they can eat you up and [Benn and Seguin] were really good last night, too. They brought their 'A' game and we were swimming a little bit in the d-zone. We just need to grind a little bit more. We're one and done. We're trying to pass too much. We're all real good buddies and we're not being aggressive enough sometimes and that's going to lead to turnovers when we're backchecking and play a lot in the d-zone. It is tough, though."
While linemates Sven Andrighetto (six points) and Mikko Rantanen (seven points) have been more productive in the early going, all three are struggling at even strength, with just seven points combined between the three coming at evens. For context, Colorado's line with Matt Nieto, Blake Comeau, and Carl Soderberg combined for eight even strength points just last night. Still, there's little reason to panic for No. 29.
"I think it's going to come," MacKinnon said confidently. "I feel like my play has been solid. I've created a lot of chances for myself and others. It'll come, I trust my game. I've done a lot of good things out there but obviously, there's room for improvement. If I'm playing well, and talk to the staff and people around me they're honest with me and I'm honest with myself, it'll come."
En route to his five points, MacKinnon has scored just one goal along the way and that came off the skate of Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi. While they all count the same, MacKinnon isn't letting negativity permeate his mindset.
"Obviously, [goals] are important," MacKinnon stated. "Like I said, it's going to come. It's a long season, we have over 70 games left. I just want to keep grinding and keep doing the right things and I know it's going to come."
Even with the slow production from what is considered Colorado's top line (an argument can be made for Matt Duchene's line but that's a different conversation), the depth scoring has helped pick up the slack and is a big reason the team sits at 5-4-0.
"It's awesome," MacKinnon said while nodding in the direction of Blake Comeau and Matt Nieto. "It's our responsibility to score as a top line but if we're going to win we're going to need depth to step up. Obviously, they've been great all season and given we're not lighting it up right now that we have guys stepping up, we haven't had that in years past. Those guys are playing really good. It's great for our team."
Last night's win was a team win with contributions from everyone across the lineup. Only two players, defensemen Chris Bigras and Anton Lindholm, failed to record a shot on goal and seven players recorded points in the win over a quality opponent. When asked if the win meant something to the squad, the alternate captain didn't even hesitate when answering.
"Absolutely," MacKinnon said succinctly. "We played well enough against St. Louis to win. We lost to some really good teams on that three-game losing streak. We were in it every game but we're trying to get back to our identity for Friday."
The Avalanche take on Vegas in an afternoon tilt beginning at 4 p.m. Mountain Time.
News and Notes
Among those not practicing was goaltender Semyon Varlamov (strictly a maintenance day), who was replaced by a local third goalie the team uses occasionally throughout the season
Spoke briefly with Tyson Jost in passing following practice. He is recovering well from his "lower-body" injury and said he is working out regularly
Of the other injured players, J.T. Compher was again skated on his own at practice today while only using one hand on his stick in order to protect his broken thumb
Also injured last week, defenseman Patrik Nemeth returned to on-ice work today
Head coach Jared Bednar did not speak with media today but is expected to talk tomorrow following practice