NEW YORK--Nathan MacKinnon appeared in his 500th career NHL game on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and in typical Nate fashion, he celebrated the occasion with a highlight-reel goal.
MacKinnon helped give the Colorado Avalanche a 2-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the first period after he took advantage of a loose puck at the defensive blue line. With all the Blueshirts behind the play, MacKinnon was all alone with rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin the only one to beat.
The Avs forward dazzled with a variety of quick stickhandles before placing the puck five-hole on Shesterkin, the third NHL shot he had ever faced as he was making his debut in the league. Shesterkin ended up picking up the victory as the Rangers came back to win 5-3.
Since being selected No. 1 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon has developed his one-time slap shot to be one of the best in the league and his outside shot through traffic has also become equally dangerous. But his ability to stickhandle quickly before unleashing a wrister is one area of his game that has been consistent in his career.
"He's got a real active stick, he likes to stickhandle it," Bednar said prior to the outing in New York. "Not only when he's carrying it, but before he shoots it. I think there is a certain amount of deception there where you don't know if he's going to skate with it or if he's going to shoot it, and he tends to get that shot off real quick."
Video: COL@NYR: MacKinnon slips shot five-hole on breakaway
MacKinnon's tally was his 26th of the season, which is tied for the third-most in the league. His 65 points also rank third in the NHL, while his 39 assists are sixth overall. He has points in all but eight of his 44 contests this season.
"High-end skill, it's tough to read what he's doing, especially now when he's kind of feeling it and things are going his way," Bednar said. "He does a lot of different things on the attack for us. It's tough to tell what he's going to do."
The center is the third player from the 2013 Draft class to reach the half-century mark in games played (Calgary's Elias Lindholm played his 500th NHL contest later on Tuesday as well), trailing only Calgary's Sean Monahan (516) and Columbus' Seth Jones (511).
MacKinnon's 467 points and 286 assists are the most in his draft class, while his 181 tallies rank second behind Monahan (186).
MacKinnon is the sixth Avalanche draft pick since 1995-96 to play 500 games with the team, joining Gabriel Landeskog (606), Alex Tanguay (598), Matt Duchene (586), Paul Stastny (538) and John-Michael Liles (523). Only Tanguay has registered more points (488) of the group.
NEW YORK COMEBACK
Despite building a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes of the outing, the Avalanche couldn't hold off the Rangers, who tallied three straight to take the lead.
J.T. Compher scored his second marker of the game to tie the game at 3-3 at 11:37 of the first period, but Ryan Strome restored the New York lead 2:05 later in what ended up as the game-winning goal.
"I didn't like the game at all. We didn't win enough races. We didn't win enough battles," Bednar said. "We weren't physical enough when we didn't win the race. We got outworked, out skated. That is how I look at it."
Colorado finished its three-game road trip in the New York metropolitan area with a 1-2-0 record and now heads home for a five-game homestand, tied for its longest of the year.
"I think just that we need to play the right way. We've kind of said it all year, that we kind of get away from our game at times and get caught running around a little bit," said Ryan Graves. "When we're simple, we're really effective and we have a lot of skill and can really overtake teams. When we try and do too much, we get ourselves in trouble."
GRAVES' NYC RETURN
Selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Draft at No. 110 overall, Ryan Graves played his first regular season game at Madison Square Garden, albeit in a visitors' jersey.
The Avs acquired Graves in a trade with New York on Feb. 26, 2018, and the defenseman has carved out a role for himself on the club. He skated in 26 contests with the Avalanche last season--the first NHL outings of his career--and has played in 43 of the squad's 44 games this year.
"I've had a few preseason games, but it was cool. It's a rink you dream about playing in," Graves said of playing at MSG. "Honestly when I got drafted I thought I would be on the other side, but like I've said to everybody, there is no ill will. They treated me really well in Hartford. Thankful that they gave me chance to be in another organization. It was fun to come back and now kind of moving on with the season."
Graves has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) this season and 20 in his career (nine goals, 11 assists). His first career goal came against the Rangers last season on Jan. 4, 2019.
Avs forward Joonas Donskoi took a hard, high hit from New York's Ryan Lindgren with 3:37 left in the first period and didn't return to the contest. Bednar did not have an update on Donskoi's status after the game.
"News isn't good obviously if he didn't come out for the rest of the game," Bednar said.
No penalty was called on the play by the on-ice officials, but Colorado's Nazem Kadri did fight Lindgren soon after the altercation.
"I watched the replay, shoulder right to his jaw, in his cheek and no call," Bednar said of the hit before discussing Kadri's response. "So we had to take care of it ourselves, and that is what we did."
J.T. Compher registered his first multi-goal game of the season, matching a career high with two tallies. It's the fourth multi-goal performance of his career (last: Feb. 22, 2019 at Chicago) and all four of Compher's multi-goal outings have come on the road.
Samuel Girard registered an assist and now has nine points (all assists) in his last five games. He is the first defenseman in franchise history to record nine assists in a five-game span. Girard is one assist shy of matching his career high of 23 set last season.
Andre Burakovsky tallied two assists and now has 14 this season, his most in a campaign since recording a career-high 23 during the 2016-17 season with Washington.