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MacKinnon Finding His Game

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

It is safe to say that Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon has found his game.

After a tough sophomore outing that saw him put up 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in just 64 games—he went 16-straight games without a tally at one point—before a broken foot sidelined him for the season, MacKinnon has picked up goals in six of the Avs’ first 14 games of the 2015-16 campaign.

In fact, the longest that MacKinnon has been held off the scoresheet this year has been just two consecutive contests, Oct. 18 at the Los Angeles Kings and Oct. 21 versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 20-year-old sensation has accrued points in nine games to date, including four multi-point efforts, and continued his scoring pace on Friday night at Pepsi Center when he found the back of the net for his team-high sixth marker.

Entering the New York Rangers’ zone with speed, MacKinnon hit the brakes at the far edge of the faceoff circle, spun around his defender and drove to the net before ripping a shot through netminder Henrik Lundqvist and into the net. No. 29’s power-play goal would be the lone Avalanche marker in the 2-1 defeat.

Nathan MacKinnon leads the Avs in points (15), assists (nine), tallies (six-tied), game-winning goals (three), plus/minus (plus-4) and shots (51). His three game-winning goals are also tied for the league lead.

Yet none of that matters to the young center at the moment.

“It’s tough to feel good about what you’re doing when the team isn’t winning,” he said, shrugging off his current three-game point streak. “Obviously, I need to be better if the team’s going to get some more wins. Like tonight, I had six shots. I need to score more than one.

Nathan MacKinnon
Center  - COL
Goals: 6 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 15
Shots: 51 | +/-: 4
“It was a good effort, but there’s no moral victories anymore. It’s tough to lose.”

Despite his offensive prowess, MacKinnon has seen the Avalanche go through ups and downs when it comes to scoring. Colorado put up 10 goals in two games—on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks and Tuesday versus the Calgary Flames—to start the week, then only managed three in the next two contests—Thursday at the Arizona Coyotes and Friday at home.

“It’s just the way it goes. Teams get hot and cold,” MacKinnon said. “Tonight, we could have had a few more. We’ve got to find ways, but I think we’re about to break out. I feel like it. Like I said, there’s no moral victories. We need to win some hockey games.”

Teetering on the edge of winning is certainly something that Matt Duchene said he feels as well.

“We know we’re right there. I feel the same as him,” the 24-year-old centerman said. “We know we can play with any team in the league. It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re a great hockey team. It doesn’t matter who we’re up against, we believe we can win. Tonight was no different.

“You look at the games we’re losing. We’re not getting beat by much. We’re just barely losing those games. That’s the most frustrating part. I’ve played on some teams here that you know some nights that you might not be able to compete, but we know we can compete every night and have a chance to win, and it’s disappointing not to be able to do it right now.”

Duchene, despite being held off the scoresheet on Friday, has four points (three goals, one assist) in his previous four matches. Yet, sharing the opinion of MacKinnon, he said it doesn’t matter how he’s doing individually.

“There’s no moral victories right now. We just need real victories,” Duchene admitted. “It’s tough, but we’re doing a lot of good things. I think the biggest thing right now is we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve just got to press forward and try to stay as positive as we can.”

The Avs head out on a seven-game, 15-day road trip on Monday, stopping in Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Winnipeg. The swing ties the Avalanche record for the longest roadie, set in in 2009 (Oct. 8-21), but registers as the longest trip in terms of consecutive days spent away from home.

The next game at Pepsi Center is on Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators.


BERRA STARTS AT HOME

Colorado keeper Reto Berra got his first start of the season at Pepsi Center on Friday night, turning aside 31 shots in the 2-1 loss.

Reto Berra

The 28-year-old swiss goaltender continued to show his dominance in the blue paint, playing tall and fast and holding the Rangers off while keeping the game within reach for the Avs.

“He played an outstanding game for us. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t have gotten one more for him to send it to overtime, [given] ourselves a chance,” Duchene said. “We played hard. It was really disappointing to get two flukey bounces that end up in our net. The first one hits the glass. I’ve never seen the puck hit the glass—in today’s NHL with the soft plexiglass—and come out front and go perfectly to a guy. And they [made] a nice play. And then the other one, I still don’t know how it went in. It looked like just a weird bounce off Yogi’s blocker, I think.”

Indeed, the second Rangers tally—coming merely 21 seconds after a power-play marker tied the score at 1-1—was more of a tough bounce than a quality scoring chance.

“I have to close the short side, and I closed it,” Berra said of the play, using his body to illustrate what he was describing. “My hand was here, and it hit like the top of my blocker or something. I think it would go wide if my blocker was not there.”

Overall, Berra said he was pleased with his team’s effort, just not the result, after playing in Arizona the previous evening.

“I think it was a good game, intense [with] good chances on both sides,” he said. “Yeah, it’s hard at the end. They just made one goal more than us, and we had chances to tie. I want that second goal back, but it is how it is. Right now we have to fight really hard, unbelievably hard for every goal, and if you’re playing against a confident group like the Rangers. They have maybe a little bit [of] these lucky bounces sometimes, and we’re working so hard and trying to get them, but we don’t get [the bounces].

“I think the guys worked really hard. It was a good hockey game, and both teams were skating and shooting. I think the work ethic was really good from our team.”

Among goalies with five or more games played, Berra is tied for fourth in the league with a 1.85 goals-against average, sits second behind only Lundqvist with a .943 save percentage and is first in goals allowed with eight.

When asked about the key to his strong play, he replied: “[I] just try to take [it] day-by-day and so far it works good for me. I have fun [working] hard, and it’s fun to be here. I just want to win, but I’ll keep working.”

Berra is essentially doing all that’s been asked of him, but he needs offensive support in order to come out victorious.

“Berra [had] a really solid performance,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said. “We just don’t have the confidence around the net right now that could make the difference. It’s not that we tried to be pretty. We got 30 shots tonight, on a back-to-back night when they were waiting for us. The guys worked hard. That’s the thing that I’m asking [of] them. Unfortunately, we just don’t get those goals.”

“I mean we put 30 pucks on net and had some really good whacks and chances. We worked hard,” Duchene added. “After we got that first one, we needed to score another one and we just weren’t able to.”

MacKinnon agreed: “When Reto plays that well—he had 31 saves or whatever it was—we need to help him out a lot more than we did. It’s definitely disappointing.”


TANGUAY INJURED

Avalanche veteran Alex Tanguay exited Friday’s match in the second period after a knee-on-knee hit from Rangers center Oscar Lindberg left the 35-year-old forward injured on the ice.

Tanguay returned briefly prior to the start of the final frame, testing his capabilities with a few strides, but left the game for good soon after.

“He hurt his knee,” Roy said after the game. “He tried to come back in the third, but [it] didn’t work out.”

Tanguay has six points (two goals, four assists) in 13 games for the Avs this season.

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