Wounded Avalanche on tap for Blue Jackets
Nathan MacKinnon’s strong rookie campaign helped the Colorado Avalanche make a surprising run to the Central Division title in 2013-14.
This season won’t end nearly the same way.
After learning MacKinnon will be out for the rest of the season, Colorado begins a back-to-back road set Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
MacKinnon’s 63 points matched Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (2010-11) for the most in a rookie season since Chicago’s Patrick Kane (72) and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom (69) in 2007-08.
He won the Calder Trophy as the Avalanche won their first division crown in 10 seasons, but they haven’t been nearly as good in 2014-15 and sit nine points back of Winnipeg for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot.
MacKinnon, who has 14 goals and 24 assists, scored in Wednesday’s 3-1 home win over Pittsburgh before taking a shot off the foot. He arrived for practice the next day complaining of pain, and an MRI showed a broken bone.
This will be the first game MacKinnon misses in his career.
"Obviously, it’s never good news when you’re losing a player like Nate, especially at a key moment in our season," coach Patrick Roy said.
Roy indicated he could shuffle his lines with MacKinnon out. Captain Gabriel Landeskog said the club is trying to move forward to the weekend as the Avalanche (28-25-11) visit Minnesota on Sunday after facing the Blue Jackets (27-33-4).
"Things might change, but it doesn’t change our mindset at all," said Landeskog, who had a goal and two assists Wednesday and has scored in seven of his last 10. "It’s a great opportunity to pick up some points. Road games, that’s always an opportunity to build that team morale and come together as a group."
Landeskog had a goal in the first meeting with Columbus on Jan. 4, but David Savard scored with 1:01 remaining to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 win. Brandon Dubinsky scored twice for the Jackets, and he had a goal and an assist in Friday’s 3-2 win over New Jersey that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Dubinsky missed the previous three with a concussion.
"It was a little bit of a worry, a scary experience for me," Dubinsky said. "I’m just happy to get back playing. It’s been a tough season for me. It felt good to be back out there."
Defenseman Justin Falk had a goal and an assist in his second game since being acquired from Minnesota on Monday before the trade deadline. Sergei Bobrovsky made 19 saves for Columbus, which now looks to snap a four-game home skid.
"It’s a fresh start for me," Falk said. "I feel more comfortable with my new teammates. I just have to go out there and play and not worry about things."
Backup Curtis McElhinney could start the second of the back-to-back. He’s 0-4-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average over his last five starts, most recently falling 5-3 to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Semyon Varlamov has made 20 straight starts for Colorado, but it’s unclear if he’ll get the nod in this contest or in Minnesota. Varlamov lost the first meeting after going 3-0-1 with a 1.70 GAA in his previous four starts against the Blue Jackets.
The Avalanche are 6-1-1 in their last eight trips to Columbus.