Landeskog, who has been out for the club’s previous three contests, is energized and ready to return after what felt like a prolonged separation from the action.
“Really excited to get back,” he said following morning skate in Alberta. “It felt like at any other point in the season it would have been three or four or five days maybe at the most, but here obviously we had a three-day break and then we had a day in between all the games. So it felt too long, but I’m ready to get back at it.”
A leader, a gamer and certainly a hard-working forward, watching his team from afar with little to do to influence the result was perhaps the hardest part of his absence.
“It’s tough to watch, no doubt. It’s tough to not be able to affect the outcome of the game, but the guys did a great job making sure they took care of business,” the 23-year-old Swede said. “Everybody that was watching with me, they know that I don’t have the nerves to watch. I’d much rather be out there, and… this time of year, every shift means so much and every play means so much. It really was tough watching, but I’m really excited to get back in. I feel like I’m in good shape, and I’ve been keeping up pretty good. So I’m excited to be back.”
The hooting and hollering and rooting for his brothers and arms will continue—just from the bench instead of the dressing room or gondola press box—as Colorado looks to warp up this trip with a third consecutive victory on the road.
“We had a solid game in Vancouver and a big third period against Calgary in a shootout win. Obviously, I’m excited to be back into it,” said Landeskog. “For us, it’s a matter of coming out and making sure that we… have a good start and try and win three in a row.”
“He’s our captain, obviously having him back means a lot to us,” head coach Patrick Roy added during his morning media scrum. “I thought our players deserved a lot of credit. He’s our leader, and playing without him and finding a way to win two of the three games shows that we have a team with a lot of character.”
The Avs have truly shown perseverance in the face of hardship, as first Landeskog and rear guard Chris Bigras (head) were out of the lineup. Then Bigras returned to action on Friday, but the club lost center Matt Duchene (knee) that very same morning. After the win in Calgary, the squad also learned that Nathan MacKinnon (knee) would be unavailable, forcing the Avalanche to recall rookie Mikko Rantanen for support.
In spite of the ups and downs on the roster, the club has continued to push on, winning games and playing until the final horn to keep the push for the postseason alive.
“We know that guys are going to step up. We know that guys are going to be ready to play,” Landeskog said. “This time of year, it’s playoff hockey. It doesn’t matter who you have in the lineup.
“We know we have good enough depth to win hockey games in here. Whoever is in the lineup, we know they’re going to step up.”
For the third time this week, the Avs will be facing a club that is beyond reaching a playoff berth, making for a dangerous opponent with nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s almost better this way, as it requires the Avalanche to remain focused and determined.
It’s not unfamiliar territory either, as the team has been on that side of things before.
“We know what that’s all about,” said Landeskog. “You have games where it’s tough, but then you have games as well that you want too play the spoiler in. You have nothing to lose. And at the same time, guys are playing for their jobs.”
Entering the night with a one-point advantage over the closely trailing Minnesota Wild and just 10 games remaining, the Avs will go with backup Calvin Pickard in net, as previously scheduled.
Roy had said before the trip that Pickard would play in the Alberta capital, and that hasn’t changed.
“Picks has been playing really well for us, and we know we’re going to need two goalies down the stretch,” the bench manager said. “The last time he played here, he played really well. Actually, when it was a bit tougher for Varly, he was there for us. He certainly deserves a chance to play.”
On Sunday, Feb. 21, the last time he was in town, Pickard made 22 saves en route to a 3-2 victory.
He is 6-5-1 this season with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
With Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene both sidelined with knee ailments, Colorado recalled 19-year-old Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen from its AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
Rantanen was with the minor-league club in California when he got the call.
“It was right after the game against Ontario,” he said. “We were in Ontario actually, with San Antonio. Just after the game, the head coach came and said, ‘You’re going tomorrow.’”
Rantanen played six games with the Avalanche to start the season, a fact that makes him more comfortable returning to the show in the middle of a playoff push.
“Of course, it helps that I was here two weeks at the start of the year. So I know guys better and it’s easier to come into the locker room. It’s good to be here,” said Rantanen. “You know a little bit how the game is, so it’s not new. It’s easier now.”
Typically a left wing, Rantanen will be playing center between Cody McLeod and Jack Skille when the puck drops Sunday night.
“He’s going to start on the fourth line with McLeod and Skille, and we’ll see how he’s playing,” Patrick Roy said. “We’re not going to put too much pressure on him to start with. [We’ll] give him a chance to feel comfortable on the ice and adapt, and we’ll see from there.”
The positional shift is of little concern to Rantanen, who has been playing center for the Rampage as of late.
“I played center in the AHL like the last 15 games, I think. So it’s not new, but of course players are faster and better here,” said Rantanen. “So I’ll have to defend better and try to bear down in faceoffs too. There’s good faceoff guys in this league, so I’ll have to bear down.
“There’s bigger responsibility in the D-zone if you’re playing center.”
In his first season of North American hockey, Rantanen leads the Rampage and AHL rookies in scoring with 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in just 44 games, which is a franchise rookie record as well. He’ll try to use that success to help Colorado down the stretch.
“This is the dream, to play in this league. So it’s nice to come to this team, and this team is doing well right now. So it’s easier to come. I’m happy,” he said. “We have to try to win every game because Minnesota is pretty close. There’s 10 games left, so big games.”
He knows what to expect and that the transition comes with increased speed.
“The game is faster and you have to think faster and do little things faster and try to find your own guys,” he said. “Just be aware all the time because the rink is smaller than in Europe, so you have to think faster, that’s the biggest thing.”
Roy acknowledged that his plan with Rantanen is to see how he does in his first game back. There’s no use planning for anything beyond that at this time.
“We’ll play one game at a time,” he said. “We’ll make decisions after.”
There wasn’t much for the Avalanche to report on Sunday regarding the status of Nathan MacKinnon. The third-year center left Friday’s contest in Calgary at the end of the third period and was later announced out with a knee injury.
Having been on the road since Tuesday, the Avs will have to wait until the 20-year-old returns to Denver with them before knowing the extent of his ailment.
“When we get to Denver, sometime this week he’s going to meet with our team doctors,” Roy said. “I guess from there we’ll have a better idea.”