DENVER — It was a better start for the still-ravaged Avalanche lineup on Friday. The return of Valeri Nichushkin, while not a boost on the scoresheet, was still a massive mental victory for a team that has gotten used to seeing players get injured rather than welcomed back into the lineup.

Whether it was the addition of Nichushkin, an extra couple of practice days, or, quite frankly, not playing the Boston Bruins, the Avs showed up to play against the New York Rangers at Ball Arena. They scored the first goal but came up short in the shootout, falling 2-1 despite outshooting New York 42-29.

New York went 2-for-3 in the shootout, and both J.T. Compher and Mikko Rantanen failed to score for the Avalanche.

“I thought our execution was way better tonight, especially on the attack,” coach Jared Bednar said.

Nichushkin had missed 17 games, having not dressed since, coincidentally, the game at Madison Square Garden against these very same Rangers on Oct. 25. The 27-year-old stormed out of the gate this season with seven goals and 12 points in seven games, while recording at least a point in each contest. Nichushkin had three shots and was a plus-1 in 22:02 of ice time.

He was a little rusty. Fighting to get his legs,” Bednar said of Nichushkin. “Every guy that we add is going to help. It’s not just the players that we add, it’s the quality of the players.” 

Colorado took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to Rantanen’s opening goal. Playing center on a line with Newhook and Nichushkin, Rantanen started the play he finished. He won the faceoff back to Girard, and quickly shifted between the hash marks, where he finished a nifty tic-tac-toe play. Girard sent the puck to Newhook at the half wall, who passed it to Rantanen on one knee for the goal with Nichushkin screening Shesterkin in front.

It was the type of crafty play the Avs didn’t generate much of against Boston.

“When you have that line with Mikko and Val, who are hard workers in the corner, they can retrieve pucks,” defenseman Cale Makar said of the Avs’ better showing. “We’re getting a lot more opportunities up top when that happens.”

While the only goal of the second period came from New York, the Avs still continued to play well. They had multiple opportunities to regain the lead, two of which involved Charles Hudon. On the first play, Hudon broke in on a 2-on-0 with Jean-Luc Foudy. With Foudy angled to the side of the net, a pass made more sense. Foudy centered it to Hudon at the edge of the crease but Hudon fanned on it. He later had a sweet set-up to Devon Toews at the right circle. The ensuing shot from Toews beat the goalie but rung off the crossbar.

Hudon and Foudy, along with Ben Meyers, formed the Avs’ new-look third line.

“We got some really good, productive minutes out of the Foudy, Meyers and Hudon line,” Bednar said. “They were dangerous even in the third period, and had a chance or two to get a lead.”

Colorado was outshot 15-14 in the middle frame, with both Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin and his former teammate Alexandar Georgiev making 14 saves.

Neither team had a power-play opportunity until the third period. And both chances came up empty-handed. First, the Avs drew a penalty on Chris Kreider, who was sent to the box for holding. Three minutes after the Rangers successfully killed it off, Rantanen was called for interference behind his own goal.

In the first meeting between the two clubs, Georgiev made 44 saves at Madison Square Garden and was victorious in the shootout. Georgiev was open about wanting to beat his former team. And Bednar said earlier Friday that the decision to give Georgiev the start had everything to do with it being a game he likely wanted. Georgiev finished his two games against the Rangers with a 1-0-1 record, stopping 74-of-77 shots (.961 save percentage).

Aside from Nichushkin’s return, the Avalanche also sent Martin Kaut and Sampo Ranta down to the AHL and called up defenseman Brad Hunt to make his season debut. Jacob MacDonald was shifted from the blue line to the wing to make room for Hunt.