Cale Makar admitted his first game back after missing the previous five with an injury wasn't his best, but it didn't seem that way from the looks of the scoresheet.
Makar recorded assists on each of the Colorado Avalanche's three goals and had the primary helper on the team's overtime-winner on Wednesday night in the 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Pepsi Center.
"I think for me I just kind of wanted to get back into the groove today," Makar said. "I've just been practicing the past few days and just [wanted to] get back into game action."
The rookie defenseman last played on Feb. 29 at the Nashville Predators. He took part in the club's morning skate on March 2 in Detroit but was a late scratch prior to warmup due to an upper-body injury.
He didn't travel with the Avs on their recent three-game road trip on the west coast but skated back in Denver while the team was away. Makar was paired with old defensive partner Ryan Graves for the matchup against the Rangers and had two shots on goal in 21:09 of ice time, along with his game-high three points.
"I think it still took me awhile for me to get my legs back under me, just defensively and jump up in the rush, but I think it is something that I need to build off of over the next few days and our team can too," said the NHL freshman.
Video: Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog discuss the win vs. NYR
Head coach Jared Bednar said prior to the game that he wasn't going to hold back the rookie in his return to the lineup, and while it wasn't a perfect night for the Makar or the team, they found a way to succeed.
"He looked rusty. It looked like he was fumbling the puck, his defensive details weren't great," Bednar said. "His gaps weren't great, and then he goes out and gets three points, including a big point in the game-winner. He finds a way. He finds a way to get it done on the offensive side of it."
Makar now has points in each of the last three games he's played (five assists), and Wednesday marked the third time this season that he recorded three or more points in a contest (one goal and two assists on Nov. 7 versus Nashville, and four assists on Nov. 16 at Vancouver).
The overtime goal was the result of Makar taking a pass from J.T. Compher in the neutral zone before bringing the puck into the New York end. After dancing a bit in the high slot, Makar threw the puck toward the net as Compher was streaking through the slot and the forward was able to get his stick on the puck to provide just enough of a redirection to give the Avs their fourth OT win of the season.
"It's kind of a blur," Makar recalled of the sequence afterward. "Their guy screened their goalie. I just threw it to the net, and I saw Comph was going there and Comph got a great stick on it. Put it over the shoulder I think, I didn't really see the puck go in. It was a great tip by him."
Video: NYR@COL: Compher tips home game-winner in overtime
The three helpers give Makar 50 points on the year, becoming the seventh defenseman and second rookie blueliner to reach the half-century mark. Only fellow rear guard Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks has more points than Makar with 53 (eight goals, 45 assists) in 68 games. Makar has 12 goals and 38 assists on the campaign leads all rookies with 0.88 points per game.
This is the first time in NHL history that the first two rookies to reach the 50-point threshold are defenseman and it is just the second season to feature multiple first-year D-men with 50 or more points--Barry Beck, Reed Larson and Stefan Persson combined for the feat in 1977-78.
Makar is now one of 17 rookie D-men to reach 50 points in league history and just the seventh different defenseman in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise history to accomplish it in a season.
"This is special what everybody in this building gets to see on a nightly basis," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog at a news conference postgame, with Makar sitting next to him. "It's very special; it doesn't happen a whole lot. I know there are some other guys in the league that are raising some attention and some guys that are doing well, but in my opinion Cale is a special kid and a special talent that's taken this league by storm.
"Some of the plays you see him make, you're not supposed to do that as a rookie so he's done an awesome job of stepping in and obviously he got some experience last year in the playoffs. He keeps impressing all of us and he's got a good head on his shoulders and he keeps working hard."
There is still plenty left to accomplish this season. The Avs remain two points behind the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Western Conference standings with a game in hand, and Makar will play a big role on if the club can surpass the defending Stanley Cup champions and continue make his own history along the way.
Forward Nathan MacKinnon will miss one-to-two weeks with a lower-body injury, head coach Jared Bednar announced after morning skate.
MacKinnon was hurt in the second period of Monday's game at the Los Angeles Kings and did not return to action.
"You see it around the league. Every team goes through a certain amount of injuries, and I always think you can count on one or two," Bednar said. "You're hoping to be healthy, but the sheer number of guys that we have out and guys that are playing key roles for us is getting to be a lot. Hopefully we have some reinforcements coming soon."
Wednesday marked the first contests that MacKinnon missed this season. He entered the day as one of three Avs players to play in each of the first 69 games of the campaign, joining Samuel Girard and Matt Nieto.
MacKinnon ranks fifth in the league with 93 points, ninth with 35 goals and sixth with 58 assists.
MORE INJURY UPDATES
While the Avalanche added another player to its injured list, the team's training room might soon be a little less crowded.
Andre Burakovsky (upper body/lower body), Matt Calvert (lower body), Philipp Grubauer (lower body), Nazem Kadri (lower body) and Mikko Rantanen (upper body) all were partial participants in the team's morning skate on Wednesday and are close to returning.
"Some of them took contact today, and if things go well then we can be trickling them into the lineup during the homestand," Bednar said.
Colorado's homestand includes games against the Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. The Avs will play eight of their final 12 contests at Pepsi Center.
MORE AVS NOTES
The Avalanche wrapped up its season series against the Rangers, finishing 1-1-0 against New York.
The Avs went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. Since Feb. 15, Colorado is 35-for-37 (94.6 percent) on the PK, the top-ranked unit in the league over that span.
Colorado finished 2-for-5 on the power play, the second time in five games it has scored multiple man-advantage goals. The Avalanche is 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) over that five-game stretch.
Gabriel Landeskog tallied two points (two assists) and now has 460 career points, surpassing Paul Stastny to take sole possession of 10th place in franchise history and sixth place in Avalanche history in scoring.
Tyson Jost recorded a goal and now has seven points (three goals, four assists) over his last nine games.
J.T. Compher notched his third game-winning goal of the season, all of which have come in Colorado's last 11 games (Feb. 21 at Anaheim, and Feb. 26 vs. Buffalo). He also logged a career-high 25:38 of time on ice.
Vladislav Namestnikov notched a goal and has produced six points (four goals, two assists) in nine games since being acquired by the Avalanche on Feb. 24.
Matt Nieto attempted the fourth penalty shot of his career (0-for-4), all of which have been as a member of the Avalanche.
The Avs reassigned forward Martin Kaut to the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles after the game.