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Rantanen Looking Comfortable At The NHL Level

The forward scored Tuesday and now has 11 points in the last 13 games

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen is starting to figure out this whole NHL thing.

While the rookie has shown brilliance throughout the season, many times those moments came in spurts. After recording his 14th goal of the year and 11th point in the last 13 games on Tuesday night, it's safe to say he's found consistency to his game.

Rantanen opened the scoring with a breakaway tally in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings, but the visitors to Pepsi Center took advantage of two opportunities later in the stanza and the Avs lost 2-1.

"That's a good hard-fought game. It probably could have gone either way," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "They capitalized on a couple of their chances, and we didn't. That's the difference. It's a one-goal hockey game."

Rantanen continues to be a bright spot for the club, having registered eight goals and three assists since Jan. 23. He's tallied in three consecutive games, setting a new career high.

"I'm trying to play with confidence and make plays and trying to simplify a little bit," Rantanen said. "So that's what I'm trying to do. It's always disappointing when you're losing and you can't feel good."

Video: Rantanen talks about his recent play

Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said he isn't surprised with where Rantanen is with his development in his first full season in the NHL. It can take few months for a rookie to get used to the speed and physicality of the league, and it wasn't until about the halfway point of his own freshman season that Landeskog felt comfortable with the game.

However, Landeskog didn't have scoring spree as a rookie like Rantanen has right now until late January, when he had nine goals and nine assists in a 16-game stretch from Jan. 21, 2011 to the end of February that season.

And remember, Rantanen missed the entire training camp and preseason after hurting his ankle in the Rookie Showcase and was in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage for the Avs' first five contests while getting back up to speed from the injury.

"You go through a little bit of a tough stretch I guess," Landeskog recalled of his own experience during the 2011-12 campaign. "Second and third month, getting into the grind, getting into things, and then once after Christmas break, at least I started feeling more comfortable. I'm sure Mikko feels the same way. Just confident really, and he's oozing confidence out there. It's fun to watch."

Rantanen's goal 32 seconds into the middle frame came from the rookie having good awareness during a Kings breakout, as he forced a turnover at the blue line and was soon all alone with goaltender Peter Budaj. That's when he threw the puck past the keeper's glove and it snuck just inside the far post.

"Trying to shoot high this time. I scored a similar goal in Anaheim, so I tried to do it that way," Rantanen said. "Put it on the high glove and this time it went in."

Video: LAK@COL: Rantanen steals puck, scores on breakaway

The Finnish right wing's recent scoring prowess is much needed for the Avs at this point of the season, as the team has been unable to score more than two goals in a game for the last two weeks.

"He's hot right now and putting the puck in the back of the net, and that's great to see," Landeskog said. "I felt like even in the first part of the season, he was creating a lot of scoring chances, playing really well with the puck, and now pucks are starting to go in for him."

It has been a trying year for the Avalanche as a whole, but individual contests during the campaign can still serve as important learning experiences for both veterans and youngsters, like the 20-year-old Rantanen. 

The Avs have now played in three straight one-goal games, each being close in the final period, forcing the players to learn how to win and pull out victories.

"I think that is the thing I try to learn every game," Rantanen said. "It's my first year, so trying to learn and trying to watch other guys and what they do and try to learn from the game. It's tough when we lose, but that's how it is sometimes. We just have to try and go fresh every game and try and do our best."

BARBERIO SEEING TIME

Expect to see more of defenseman Mark Barberio in the final weeks of the Avalanche's season.

Barberio played a team-high 22:42 against the Kings, his sixth straight game with more than 20 minutes of ice time. Tuesday marked his 10th contest with Colorado since being picked up on waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2.

For Bednar, what he appreciates the most about Barberio's game after the D-man's first three weeks with the club is how smart he is with the puck.

"You watch him play, he moves the puck out of our zone," Bednar said. "He uses his feet to escape trouble, can make plays through traffic, can make the simple play when its needed. When he gets in trouble in the defensive zone, he rarely turns it over down there. He'll airmail it out to neutral ice, gives us a chance to reset."

With fellow blueliner Nikita Zadorov out for the remainder of the season with a fractured ankle, there will be more minutes available for the defensive corps to take. Barberio will likely be one of the players that will see an expanded role because of it in the final 24 games.

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

PICKARD STAYS IN THE CREASE

Goaltender Calvin Pickard made his fourth consecutive start in net for the Avalanche on Tuesday, and his ninth outing in the last 10.

Pickard made 30 saves against the Kings, marking the 12th time this season he's stopped 30 or more shots. He has reached that number in three of the last four contests.

The netminder was especially strong in the first two periods when he made 12 saves in the first and 11 in the second.

"[The Kings] had a few looks themselves and Pick came up big in the first," Bednar said. "He had a good game for us."

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