With captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Samuel Girard suddenly missing from the lineup, the Avalanche needed an extra spark and got it from superstar Nathan MacKinnon and goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
MacKinnon scored two goals and Kuemper stopped all 45 shots he faced to help put an end to a two-game skid on Sunday, defeating the Calgary Flames 3-0 at Ball Arena.
Kuemper stopped 22 shots in the third period and halted the Flames’ attempt to claw back into the contest.
“I thought first couple periods we didn’t give up a lot,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Kuemper’s play. “But third period when they were on their push, they got some really good chances even at the end of the game, 6-on-4, and he made some big saves for us. I liked his game a lot. He was sharp from start to finish.”
Landeskog made headlines after Colorado’s last game against Carolina for calling out the officiating with a post-game statement. But just two days later, Bednar announced that Landeskog would miss time with a knee injury. He’s scheduled to have surgery on Monday.
Bednar also confirmed on Saturday that Girard would miss four weeks.
Without them, the Avs played with a 17-man roster and elected to double-shift MacKinnon and Rantanen, among others, rather than call up an extra forward.
Bednar said the team will take it day by day on deciding if another player needs to be called up.
MacKinnon scored both goals surrendered by Flames goalie Dan Vladar. Kuemper’s shutout was his fourth of the season to help the Avs — who improved to 42-13-5 — continue to lead the NHL in wins and points.
MacKinnon has nine goals in as many games since sitting for a precautionary injury against Detroit on Feb. 23.
“He’s playing well, he’s playing two-way hockey and he’s scoring a lot,” forward Mikko Rantanen said of his linemate. “There was never a doubt that he can score, we’ve seen it before. He’s playing really well, but he was playing well before that too, but it just wasn’t going in. I’m really happy for him and it’s good for our team.”
The Avs have dropped two consecutive games in regulation only twice all season and have not lost three straight — whether in regulation or overtime — at all.
They followed up their first shutout loss (2-0 at Carolina on Thursday) with a shutout of their own.
MacKinnon took advantage of the first man-advantage opportunity of the evening, firing home a power-play goal from the circle to the right of Vladar and watched as the puck hit the back of the net and came out the other side. The eventual game-winner gave the Avs the lead 1-0 lead.
Center Alex Newhook and the sold-out crowd thought he had added to the lead on Colorado’s second power-play chance later in the first. Newhook fired it past Vladar but it hit both posts and stayed out. Despite the short-lived goal horn sound and cheers from the crowd, the play continued and Calgary was able to kill off the penalty.
MacKinnon’s tally held as the lone goal until the third. The Flames, who shut out the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, were outplayed in the middle frame but were bailed out numerous times by Vladar. The goalie defeated the Avs eight days ago and did everything in his power to do it again. He made a huge save on MacKinnon in the second period, as well as high-danger opportunities from Valeri Nichushkin, Logan O’Connor and Nazem Kadri among others.
“There’s one thing about tonight’s game, I loved our second period,” Bednar said. “I thought we had some dangerous, dangerous scoring chances from the slot and we miss the net on five out of seven of them.”
But MacKinnon’s second goal came just four minutes into the final frame off the faceoff in the offensive zone. MacKinnon finished with five shots in 19:44.
“After two periods we had 14 missed nets and eight of them came from prime scoring positions,” Bednar continued. “So it was kind of looking like one of those games where are we going to be able to get this thing done?”
The Avs and the Pacific-Division leading Flames will meet once more in March, this time at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Colorado currently leads the season series at 1-0-1, collecting a point in the overtime loss at Ball Arena on March 5.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif