Varlamov, MacKinnon stand out as Avalanche blank Islanders
Nathan MacKinnon finally found his shooting touch on a night when his goalie turned back everything.
Just what the frustrated MacKinnon needed. Same goes for Semyon Varlamov, a hard-luck loser in his last few starts.
MacKinnon scored his first two goals of the season, and Varlamov stopped 40 shots for his 14th NHL shutout, lifting the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday.
The 19-year-old MacKinnon has struggled to get on track this season. He scored both of his goals in the second period, one on a power play — hopping up and down on his skates to celebrate — and the other when he tipped a shot past goalie Chad Johnson.
"I figured (a goal) would come sooner or later," said MacKinnon, the reigning NHL rookie of the year. "Obviously, a little later than I wanted, but it’s all in the past now."
Varlamov was sharp against the Islanders, one of the league’s highest scoring teams. It was his first shutout since April 5 at St. Louis.
The Russian showed no signs of fatigue after making 49 saves in a shootout loss to San Jose two nights earlier. He has stopped 89 shots in his last two games.
"He’s one of the best, if not the best, in the game right now," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.
No argument from Islanders coach Jack Capuano.
"Pretty good to me," Capuano said. "Give him credit."
This was a big boost for Varlamov’s psyche, especially after a rough start early in the season and then missing time because of a groin injury.
"Right now, it’s very important for me to get my confidence back," Varlamov said. "We scored a lot of goals, too. We get our confidence back for our offense."
Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche also netted their first goals of the season. Erik Johnson added another in the third period.
The Avalanche took command with a three-goal second period, turning the game into a rout. That is a departure for these teams in Denver, where the last seven meetings had been decided by one goal.
Tempers flared late, with New York’s Cal Clutterbuck and McLeod shoving each other near the Avalanche bench. Both were sent to the penalty box for roughing. Seconds later, Johnson scored on a power play to make it 5-0. The defenseman also added an assist.
The Islanders struggled on the power play, going 0-for-6.
"Couldn’t capitalize," Capuano said. "We’ve got to score goals. In this league, every night, got to score two to three to win. If you don’t, you’re not going to win hockey games."
At the morning skate, MacKinnon said his scoring slump wasn’t weighing on him and that he wouldn’t change anything about his play.
"I’ll get a bounce one of these nights," MacKinnon said.
He did. There was a collision in front of the Islanders net with three players falling on top of Gabriel Landeskog near the crease. Johnson tried to stand tall, but fell. MacKinnon skated backward with the puck to create some separation and then lined a shot into the upper corner.
His eyes grew wide when the puck went in, and he raised his arms. He then hopped around as his teammates engulfed him.
Later, Jarome Iginla corralled a puck on the side and sent a pass that MacKinnon tipped to the right of Johnson’s stick.
MacKinnon had 24 goals and 39 assists last season in helping the Avalanche return to the playoffs. His slow start mirrored that of last season, though, when he had one goal through the opening 11 games.
McLeod scored 2:34 into the game on a feed from Matt Duchene, who was left alone behind the net.
Islanders captain John Tavares almost tied it, but his shot just before the buzzer to end the first clanged off the crossbar.
"Got to find a way to get a little bit more gritty," Tavares said. "Find a way to get an ugly one, get a bounce to go your way. It’s obviously a frustrating loss."
NOTES: New York D Travis Hamonic missed his fourth straight game because of an upper-body injury. … Islanders RW Kyle Okposo played in his 400th career game. … The Islanders’ next stop on their five-game trip is Saturday at San Jose. … F Maxime Talbot and Duchene each had two assists.