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November To Remember For MacKinnon

Avalanche forward credits linemates for strong month

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

When your name is linked with those of Colorado Avalanche legends Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, you know you've done something special. Nathan MacKinnon's month of November was just that.

MacKinnon recorded five goals and 15 assists for 20 points over the 12 games in November and was named the NHL's first star of the month on Friday. It is his first-ever honor in the league's monthly awards and the team's first since Matt Duchene was named the third star in November 2015.

The Avalanche center's point total for the month is tied for the third most in team history (since 1995-96) with Duchene (2015) and Sakic (1995). Only Forsberg's 23 points in 1995 and Sakic's 22 in 2000 are more.

"It's obviously definitely something I'm proud of," MacKinnon said to ColoradoAvalanche.com about receiving the monthly honor. "Like I've said, our line got hot, we created a lot of chances, and I thought we played really well this month. I was on the receiving end of some extra points from Gabe (Landeskog) and Mikko (Rantanen). We didn't produce a ton in October, but we're feeling better now and it's an honor for sure."

Video: Nathan MacKinnon named NHL's first star of November

MacKinnon centered the line with Rantanen and Landeskog beginning on Oct. 28 in the game against the Chicago Blackhawks and remained intact up until the Calgary Flames contest on Saturday. Landeskog is currently serving a four-game suspension, but once he returns it seems like the trio will be put back together.

The three players combined for 18 goal and 45 points in those 12 contests, with MacKinnon netting 21 of those points (six goals and 15 assists).

"Me and Mikko have played together the last couple seasons, and I've played with Gabe for the better part of five years," MacKinnon said. "I think when we were put together, it was the first time we've all played together. The Chicago game, it was great. We had a really good first period and we've been rolling ever since then. It's sparked us."

Rantanen noted that when you're playing with a player that is feeling his game like MacKinnon is, it's not too difficult to keep giving him the puck and letting him work his magic, so to speak.

"He is a great player. He has good speed. He is one of the fastest guys in the league," Rantanen said of his linemate. "It is fun to get the puck to him and get open."

Video: Rantanen before hosting Devils

MacKinnon's 20 points last month were tied with Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid for the most in the league, but the Avs alternate captain achieved it in four fewer games. He averaged 1.67 points per game in November while also adding two overtime-winning goals and finishing with a plus-11 rating.

His best outing was on Nov. 16 against the Washington Capitals when he had a career-high five points (one goal and four assists) in Colorado's 6-2 victory. He was later named the NHL's third star of week after adding a goal and an assist in the Avs' other two contests.

MacKinnon's 15 assists in November were the second most by a player in Avs history, two behind Forsberg's 17-helper effort in 1995.

The 22-year-old now has seven goals and 19 assists in 22 games this season, averaging 1.23 points per contest. He is on pace to break his career high of 63 points set in 2013-14.

"It's obviously nice when you get them, but for me, the less I think about that stuff, the better I play and the more I get," MacKinnon said of seeing the points coming on a more regular basis. "There are going to be stretches where I don't get much, the first 10 games of this season for instance. That's fine. I just got to keep playing my game and be satisfied with playing well and not have points be my end goal."

He noted that he didn't feel that there was a big difference to his game this season to where it was the previous years, but he does feel more relaxed.

"I just feel that I'm a little more even-keel, letting things roll off my stick a little more than I used to," he said. "Not stressing about stuff. I'm feeling good mentally."

So can MacKinnon keep his scoring pace up? It won't be easy, but head coach Jared Bednar thinks he can.

"I don't see why not," Bednar said. "Things are starting to tighten up defensively from some other teams, and every team is getting better defensively, so there seems to be a few less chances in the games now as the season goes on. But [that line is] going to work to earn those chances. If they can capitalize on their opportunities, I don't see why they can't continue to produce."

The Avs are competing in the tough Central Division and Western Conference, but they are presently just two points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on many of the clubs above them in the standings.

With 59 games to go in the season, there is still plenty to achieve for MacKinnon and company.

"I think just striving to get better every day," said MacKinnon on his and the team's approach for the final three-quarters of the year. "It is something I've learned when you're coming to the rink motivated and have things in your mind to work on. You have a positive attitude at the rink, it's good."

ANDRIGHETTO, YAKUPOV SWITCH PLACES

The Avalanche will use the same 20 players this evening against the New Jersey Devils as it did on Wednesday in the team's 3-2 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets, but the combination will be slightly different.

Left wing Sven Andrighetto and right wing Nail Yakupov will swap spots in the lineup, with Andrighetto playing with Gabriel Bourque and Dominic Toninato and Yakupov joining a group with MacKinnon and Rantanen.

"With Landy out, we got to put somebody in there. We gave Andrighetto a chance the other night, trying to spark him," head coach Jared Bednar told reporters after Friday's morning skate.

"Yak is a guy that I like the way he's played. Some of his ice time has gone away just because of the makeup of our lines. We want to put that kid line together and we want to keep Soderberg's and MacK's line together. I think there is some opportunity here for the next three games, so I like to check out and see how he is going to do there."

Yakupov, who has played in all 23 games during his first season with the Avalanche, is tied for third on the club in goals with seven.

The rest of Colorado's line combinations and defensive pairings will remain the same. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will make his second consecutive start in net after missing the previous three outings with an illness.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Nail Yakupov - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Gabriel Bourque - Dominic Toninato - Sven Andrighetto

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Mark Barberio
Anton Lindholm - Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Jonathan Bernier

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