DENVER — Nathan MacKinnon’s return following an 11-game absence went about as well as it did in a similar scenario a year ago.

MacKinnon was inserted into the lineup Saturday in a one-sided 6-2 Avalanche loss at the hands of the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs. In last season’s Stanley Cup run, MacKinnon missed eight games in November before making his return against these very same Leafs. Colorado dropped that game 8-3.

“I thought he was okay. I thought he had his legs underneath him,” head coach Jared Bednar said of MacKinnon. “His timing might be off a little bit but obviously Nate keeps himself in great condition. Came back ready to skate and play. He’s pretty dangerous at times. It’ll take him a game or two to figure out the timing.”

Even with the return of its top forward, Colorado is still struggling without a large part of its lineup. Wingers Valeri Nichushkin and Gabriel Landeskog are absent from the top six, depth forward Darren Helm is missing from the bottom six and penalty kill, an entire defensive pairing of Bowen Byram and Josh Manson remains out and backup goalie Pavel Francouz has missed the last two games.

Make no mistake about it, the Avs are struggling with injuries but they’re also not playing well enough since Christmas.

Prior to the holiday break, Colorado rattled off four straight victories, surrendering just four goals in the process. Without so many offensive weapons, Bednar was able to implement a defense-first strategy to keep games low-scoring. But in the three games since, the Avalanche have surrendered 17 goals and collected just one point in the standings.

Defensively, they’ve given up many more opportunities than in previous weeks. Their power play has struggled to capitalize and the penalty kill has hindered the team’s ability to stay in games. Toronto scored on a crucial power-play opportunity just 34 seconds into the second period to take a 3-1 lead.

Goaltending has also been an issue. Without Francouz to split duties, Bednar started Georgiev in eight consecutive games dating back to Dec. 15. Against the Leafs, Georgiev was pulled in the second period after allowing five goals on 24 shots. It was the first time the Avs have needed to pull their starter and replace him with the backup in any game. Jonas Johansson stepped in, making seven saves.

“He didn’t play his best. We’ve certainly seen him play better than he played tonight,” Bednar said of Georgiev. “Which is why we made the change in goal. We’ve seen him play better than he’s played the last three games. Sometimes he’s sharp and can keep us in the game. Haven’t seen it since the Christmas break.”

J.T. Compher and Devon Toews scored the Avalanche’s goals. Compher also had an assist and has recorded 14 points (six goals) in his last 15 games.