The Colorado Avalanche was dealt another injury during a crucial point of the season, but the unfortunate development comes at the same time that the club welcomes a big piece back into its lineup.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said after today's morning skate that forward Nathan MacKinnon will miss one-to-two weeks with a lower-body injury, but defenseman Cale Makar will return to game action this evening against the New York Rangers.
"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."
MacKinnon left in the second period of the Avs' game on Monday at the Los Angeles Kings and did not return. He is now one of seven banged-up players on the club (not including Makar) and joins Andre Burakovsky (upper body/lower body), Matt Calvert (lower body), Philipp Grubauer (lower body), Nazem Kadri (lower body), Mikko Rantanen (upper body) and Colin Wilson (lower body) on the team's injured list.
The amount of players visiting the training room with regularity could soon decrease, as the Avs might have several of them back in the fold later on during this four-game homestand that begins tonight. Burakovsky, Calvert, Kadri and Rantanen all participated in morning skate in red, non-contact jerseys, and Grubauer was one of three goaltenders to take the ice as well.
"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 hosts the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday afternoon and San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, as the team begins a stretch of playing nine of its final 13 regular-season games at Pepsi Center.
Video: Cale Makar & J.T. Compher before playing the Rangers
Makar's re-entrance into the Avs' alignment comes after he's missed the past five games with an upper-body injury. He was a late scratch before warmup for the March 2 contest at the Detroit Red Wings and didn't travel with the club on its recent three-game road trip on the west coast.
The rookie defenseman ranks second in the league in scoring among first-year players with 47 points (12 goals, 35 assists) in 56 games and leads that group with a 0.84 points-per-game average.
"I'm feeling really good now," said Makar said being a full participant in morning skate. "It's good to be back. Obviously you don't want to miss games at this point of the season. I'm excited to go out there, and hopefully have a good one tonight."
Makar isn't going to be held back in his return to the lineup. He is going to be reunited with defensive partner Ryan Graves, and Bednar expects him to play around the 21:00 of ice time he's been averaging this season.
"I think he's skated in four of the last six days, today making it five of the last seven. He's in elite condition," Bednar said of Makar. "He's been working hard with [on-ice performance consultant Shawn Allard]. We'll put him right back in. He'll play with Graves tonight and jump right back into his regular role."
MacKinnon was one of three Avalanche players that have played in all 69 games to this point of the season and ranks fifth in scoring in the NHL with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists), but his teammates are confident they can overcome his absence. They've had the next man-up mentality all year.
Colorado suffered a similar rash of injuries in October and November and survived that bout, and its depth has shined in this most recent stint. Since Feb. 17, the Avs have an 8-2-2 record and their 18 points earned are tied for the most in that time.
"It's been tough with injuries, but like we've talked about over the last few weeks, it's been next guy up," said forward J.T. Compher, who is taking MacKinnon's spot as the top-line center this evening. "So many different guys have stepped up and have found a way over the last month or so to get results. Got to keep playing the right way and playing together."
The Avalanche recalled forward Martin Kaut this morning from the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles on an emergency basis and is slated to play in his ninth NHL contest tonight. Kaut was with the Avs in L.A. on Monday, but he was reassigned to the Eagles soon after once Vladislav Namestnikov was able to play after previously being a game-time decision.
Kaut, Colorado's 2018 first-round draft pick, has two goals and one assist in his first eight games with the Avs.
Namestnikov didn't take part in today's morning skate, but Bednar said he expects him to play against the Rangers, his former team that he began the year with.
Colorado acquired Namestnikov in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 24, and he will be playing the Rangers for just the second time since they traded him to Ottawa earlier in the season. He had a goal and an assist in that Nov. 4 game in New York City.