DENVER — Nathan MacKinnon got off on the right foot in his second game back from an eight-game injury absence. The star centerman opened the scoring Monday just 25 seconds in on the first shot of the evening. It was a crucial goal given the Avalanche’s first-period struggles in recent games. But it still wasn’t enough.

Colorado was unable to find the back of the net again until the later stages of the third period, dropping its fourth straight game — a 3-2 loss at Ball Arena to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Avs are 0-3-1 since the holiday break.

“There’s no quit in our room which is a good thing moving forward,” Mackinnon said.

The Golden Knights added the tying goal later in the first before adding to their lead with two more in the middle frame. Leading 1-0, the Avs had consecutive dominant shifts, including a play where MacKinnon bolted into the offensive zone, setting up linemate Mikko Rantanen for a one-timer. Rantanen hit the crossbar, and on the ensuing breakout going the other way, Golden Knights forward Michael Amadio tipped a point shot past goalie Alexandar Georgiev to make it 1-1.

The Avalanche were not by any means out of it after that play, but it’s easy to look back in hindsight and wonder what could have been had Rantanen scored. Colorado later hit another post in the third period off a shot from J.T. Compher while on the power play.

“That was unlucky,” said MacKinnon, who had eight of the team’s 29 shots. “It would have been 2-0 early and who knows from there. Then Comph hit a post. We had a lot of good looks in the third, really buzzing which is a good sign.”

Nicolas Roy scored both of the second-period goals for Vegas.

Darren Helm made his long-awaited season debut. The veteran forward re-signed with the club on a one-year deal following last season’s Stanley Cup championship run but hadn’t dressed in a game since. Helm missed the first 35 games with a lower-body injury.

Also returning was forward Martin Kaut. But the positive injury news was also met with another blow to the lineup. After participating in morning skate, Evan Rodrigues was announced out with an upper-body injury half an hour before puck drop. Rodrigues was expected to play on the second line with Compher. Instead, the Avs dressed Kurtis MacDermid on the fourth line alongside Helm and Kaut.

“It was late in the game the other night,” head coach Jared Bednar said, referring to Rodrigues’ injury happening late in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I’d say he’s day-to-day for now, but we’ll get more information by tomorrow morning.”

Rodrigues joins other forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin as well as defensemen Bowen Byram and Josh Manson and goalie Pavel Francouz on the injured list. Colorado is missing its entire second line, second defensive pairing and backup goalie.

“We just need to get healthy. Guys are battling but it’s tough,” MacKinnon said.

Helm was reunited for a handful of shifts in the third period with his linemate from last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs — Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano. He finished with five hits in 8:55.

Georgiev was in goal for the ninth consecutive game. He has struggled since the holiday break, allowing 17 in four games after a 4-0-0 stretch before Christmas. Georgiev had allowed just four goals in as many games during that winning streak.