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Colorado's Top Line Dominates Against Capitals

MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen combined for 12 points

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

There is a reason why the best players are on the top line. They are usually the game changers that can take over contests and get a goal when the team needs it the most. 

The Colorado Avalanche's first unit has been just that recently and that was especially the case on Thursday in the team's meeting against the Washington Capitals. 

Colorado's trio of center Nathan MacKinnon, left wing Gabriel Landeskog and right wing Mikko Rantanen combined for five goals and 12 points, and the Avs ended a three-game losing streak with a 6-2 victory over the Capitals at Pepsi Center. Landeskog recorded his first NHL hat trick with three goals, while MacKinnon and Rantanen each recorded career highs with five and four points, respectively. 

"We have to be able to find this gear more often, and we know we can do it," Landeskog said of his line. "We just have to find it more often, be more consistent with it. I think it is something that chemistry takes time to build and things like that. We've played with each other in the past, but some nights it just seems some things are clicking for you, pucks are bouncing the right ways and you're creating the right scoring chances and things like that. 

"We just have to make sure that we keep this momentum and keep working hard because our work ethic is what is going to make our skills standout really." 

Landeskog scored on the first shot of the game just 17 seconds after the opening faceoff, tallied on a penalty shot and then made the hats fly from the stands by recording a power-play marker with 26 seconds remaining in regulation. 

The Avs captain's tally on the penalty shot one second before the five-minute mark of the third period was the first of his career and the first by a Colorado player since Chris Stewart did it against the St. Louis Blues on March 6, 2010.

Video: Landeskog on the Avs win against the Capitals 

For MacKinnon, his last five-point outing came on the biggest stage in junior hockey, as he had three goals and two assists for the Halifax Mooseheads in the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup championship game on May 26, 2013 against the Portland Winterhawks. 

The last time Colorado had a performance like MacKinnon's was nearly 10 years ago when Milan Hejduk had six points and Paul Stastny had five versus St. Louis on Dec. 9, 2007. MacKinnon's four assists on Thursday were also the most by an Avs player since T.J. Galiardi on Feb. 2, 2010 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Rantanen finished his night with a goal and three assists, contributing on each of the team's final four, non-penalty shot tallies.

"We wanted to be more aggressive tonight. When all of us are shooting and skating and playing with a lot of authority and assertiveness, we're tough to handle," MacKinnon said. "We all bring something different. We all accompany each other really well. We had some time last year. I thought we played decent, but we just couldn't get any production. It is finally coming through." 

Video: Postgame interview with Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon was on a season-long, five-game point streak before it ended in the Avalanche's previous contest on Saturday in Sweden against the Ottawa Senators. However, if him and his linemates keep playing like they did versus the defending Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals, it won't be hard to create a new one. 

In the seven games since the group was first put together this season on Oct. 28 versus the Chicago Blackhawks, MacKinnon has 15 points (five goals and 10 assists), Rantanen has 10 points (five goals and five assists) and Landeskog has eight points (five goals and three assists). 

"I think we played really well last year, we just couldn't get some bounces. Tonight, everything just kind of went in," MacKinnon said. "We came together for the Chicago game, and we've been going since then. Good on offense, and we're feeling good."

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

The performance by Colorado's top line against Washington marked a tremendous bounce-back effort after the trio was held off the scoresheet in the team's 4-3 loss to Ottawa in the second game of the NHL Global Series.

"They were really good. They've been pretty good lately," Avs head coach Jared Bednar said of his first line outing back home. "I didn't love their second game in Sweden. It was a pretty quiet night for them, probably the quietest of the year, but they responded coming back here today. They've won us a couple games here for us lately."

The victory improved the Avalanche's record to 9-7-1 on the season and helps the team keep pace in the uber-competitive Central Division. With the three consecutive losses and two four-day breaks, Colorado entered Thursday tied for the fewest points in the division, despite having a winning record. 

There is still plenty of time for the Avs to make up ground in the standings as the they have games in hand on most of the league. Their 17 outings played are tied for the fewest in the NHL at this point of the season with Carolina, Ottawa and San Jose. 


Rookie forward Vladislav Kamenev made his Avalanche debut versus the Caps, but his first game with his new club was cut short midway through the second period. He may not see the ice again for some time

Kamenev collided with Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik through the neutral zone at 6:18 of the second period and suffered a broken arm on the play.

"I hate to see it. He's a kid coming up, getting a good opportunity to jump in," Bednar said. "He's new to the organization. I know he wants to impress. He's a little down in the dumps, suffers a pretty bad injury and will miss some time. We know what we have in him, and he'll be back."

Kamenev was playing in his third-ever NHL game after appearing in two contests with the Nashville Predators last season. He was acquired from Nashville on Nov. 5 in a three-team trade. 


Semyon Varlamov appeared in his 300th NHL game with the Avalanche on Thursday night, becoming the second goaltender in franchise history to reach the mark. Only Patrick Roy has played in more games as a keeper for Colorado/Quebec.

"It has went really fast. It's been really enjoyable to play for the Avs, for sure," Varlamov said on Wednesday about the milestone. "I'm looking forward to playing another 300. Why not?"

Video: Varlamov after the Avs win

Varlamov celebrated the achievement against the Washington Capitals, his former team that he played his first 59 contests with from 2008 to 2011. The Avs acquired Varlamov in a trade on July 1, 2011, and he has been the club's starting netminder ever since.

"It's just another game for me," Varlamov said after the contest. "It doesn't matter who we play, Washington or any other team. It's just nice to get the two points."

Varlamov is now 3-3-0 is six career games against the Capitals and has a 3-0-1 record in his last four starts this season.


Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie missed his first game of the season as he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

He participated in portions of Wednesday's practice and Thursday's morning skate in a red, non-contact jersey and wasn't healthy enough to dress versus the Capitals. Bednar says he expect the blueliner to be on the team's upcoming road trip with stops in Nashville and Detroit.

"He feels better today," Bednar said on Thursday morning. "I'm not sure exactly at what point he hurt it. It's been bugging him a little bit. He was pretty sore yesterday, better today. He'll be a guy that should come on the road trip with us and play this weekend, but it is too early to tell just yet. See how he looks tomorrow morning."

It was the first game that Barrie has missed since Feb. 4-11 of last season when he was out for four contests with a lower-body injury.

The Victoria, British Columbia, native entered Thursday ranked second on the Avs in scoring with 14 points (two goals and 12 assists) in 16 games.

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