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Postgame Wrap-Up: MacKinnon Streaking to Start Season

Avalanche forward extends goal streak to four games in win over Sabres

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

BUFFALO, N.Y.--If there was any doubt that Nathan MacKinnon's MVP-worthy season from a year ago would carry over into 2018-19, those worries can likely be put to rest.

MacKinnon scored twice to bring his season goal total to five and the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Buffalo Sabres with another offensive explosion, this time winning 6-1 at KeyBank Center. The Avs are now averaging 4.25 goals through the first four games, which presently ranks in the top five of the NHL.

MacKinnon has been at the center of the club's success in the early part of the campaign, having scored in each contest. He joins John Mitchell (2015-16) as the only Avalanche players to register four-game goal streaks to begin a season. His stretch is one shy of the franchise mark of five set by the Quebec Nordiques' Mats Sundin in 1992-93.

"It's always nice to get off on a good start. It takes some pressure off you, for sure. You get a few on the board quick and early," MacKinnon said. "Last year wasn't a great start for me, but I got going. Hopefully I can continue this momentum for the whole season."

Despite not scoring in his first six games last season, MacKinnon still finished fifth in the league with a career-high 97 points (39 goals and 58 assists) in 74 games. He was the runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player and a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award.

"You do the right things on the defensive side of the puck, you'll have the puck more. I feel like he's just starting to hit his stride," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar of MacKinnon. "A handful of points in a handful of games, and I don't think we've seen his best."

Video: Nathan MacKinnon after the Avs' win over the Sabres

MacKinnon's first goal of the night came at a key time for Colorado with 2:27 left in the second period.

Buffalo was gaining momentum, and Nathan Beaulieu had scored 28 seconds earlier to get the Sabres on the scoreboard and cut the deficit to 3-1. The crowd was soon quieted again after the Avs received a fortunate bounce and MacKinnon tallied on a wrist shot from the left circle after taking a cross-ice pass from Mikko Rantanen.

"Nice play by Mikko, getting the bounce off the ref," MacKinnon said. "It's always good to get some momentum back. Those guys started buzzing."

The center's second marker came in typical MacKinnon fashion and increased the Avalanche's lead to 6-1 with 2:59 remaining in regulation. Finding himself on a breakaway, MacKinnon quickly stickhandled and flipped the puck up and over Sabres netminder Carter Hutton's glove and below the crossbar to seal the rout.

Video: COL@BUF: MacKinnon nets second on breakaway

At press time, he was tied for third in the league in goals (five) and shared the No. 2 spot in shots (23) after firing four more pucks on net on Thursday.

"I got more to give I think. I think I got better than what I'm playing, but it's good," the center said. "It hasn't been easy so far this year. The puck has kind of been pinballing around, but on my chances I have been ready and focused. You always get chances, you have to be ready for them, but I think I can dominate more."

The Sabres are one of the teams that MacKinnon has had particular success against in his young career. He now has 10 points (five goals and five assists) in nine all-time meeting against the team from Western New York.

MORE STREAKS: MacKinnon isn't the only player to pick up points in each game of the new season, as Alexander Kerfoot, Mikko Rantanen and Carl Soderberg are also on four-game point streaks.

Soderberg scored in the first period and now has five points on the campaign (three goals and two assists); Rantanen had three helpers and leads the Avs with seven points (one goal and six assists); and Kerfoot tallied late to extend his streak and earn him five points on the year (one goal and four assists).

Samuel Girard is on a solid stretch as well. He assisted on Colin Wilson's goal in the first period to bring his assist/point streak to three games, tying a career long previously set Jan. 4-13, 2018.

Video: COL@BUF: Soderberg patiently beats Hutton in the 1st

POWER UP: Tyson Jost and Colin Wilson opened the game with two power-play goals in the first period, and the Avalanche finished 2-for-4 with the man advantage.

"I think our power play was great early. It kind of gets the boys going," MacKinnon said. "When the power play is going, it feels like everything else is a lot easier."

Colorado has now scored a power-play marker in each of the first four games of the season for the first time since 2009-10 when it tallied a man-advantage goal in each of the opening six contests. The team is now 5-for-15 on the year in advantaged situations.

Alternatively, the Avs were equally strong on the penalty kill against the Sabres as they didn't allow a goal on seven extra-man chances.

The squad entered Thursday's contest tied for 10th in the league on the power play and tied for seventh on the penalty kill.

VARLY ALSO STARTING STRONG: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 30-of-31 saves and picked up his third win in as many starts to the begin the season. He has only allowed four total goals in those contests.

"I'm just glad the team is playing well, and it's nice to see our offense going right now," Varlamov said. "The guys are scoring goals and creating lots of chances."

It is the fourth time in Varlamov's career that he has won his first three starts and the second straight season he has accomplished the feat (2017-18, 2013-14, 2008-09).

The netminder also improved to 7-2-1 in his career versus the Sabres, registering a 2.30 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 10 outings.

Video: Semyon Varlamov on the Avs' win over the Sabres

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: The Avalanche won its first coach's challenge of the year as they questioned Kyle Okposo's goal with 21.5 seconds left in the first period.

Okposo was the last to touch the puck during a scramble in the crease, but Colorado head coach Jared Bednar challenged the tally for goalie interference.

After review, the officials determined that Okposo did prevent goaltender Semyon Varlamov's ability to stop the puck. The call kept the score at 3-0 in favor Colorado.

VLAD'S DEBUT: Vladislav Kamenev made his season debut for the Avalanche, playing left wing on a line with Matt Calvert and J.T. Compher.

Kamenev appeared in three Avalanche contests last season after being acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on Nov. 5. He missed 50 games during the year with a broken arm.

The Orsk, Russia, native played two contests with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League last weekend after he dealt with a lower-body injury at the end of the preseason.

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