TORONTO--While the Colorado Avalanche has seen several of its players out of the lineup with injury, forward Valeri Nichushkin has made the most of his chances in an increased role.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward most recently recorded his first career short-handed goal, his third marker in the past three games, to help the Avs earn a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
The tally stood as the game-winner, the fourth game-winning goal of his career and his first since Nov. 8, 2015 at Detroit.
"He has been really good using his size and strength and length on the penalty kill, knows where to be," head coach Jared Bednar said of Nichushkin. "I think he is a good, responsible, defensive player and now he has chipped in. I think it's three goals in the last five games for us after a long drought, so he is playing with confidence.
"He is skating every time he touches the puck. When you get a guy that size that can skate like he can, and if he is pushing his legs, he can be hard to handle."
Video: COL@TOR: Nichushkin steals the puck, pots SHG
So far this season, Nichushkin has recorded six points (three goals, three assists) and four of those have come in the past five games.
He also scored his first goal as a member of the Avalanche in a 5-3 loss to the Maple Leafs at Pepsi Center on Nov. 23. It was his first marker since March 4, 2016 versus the New Jersey Devils while a member of the Dallas Stars.
"I think he has been great as of late," Nazem Kadri said of his teammate. "I mean he has stepped in. He is one of those depth guys that have played big minutes for us when we have had injuries. He has rose to the occasion, and it's nice to see him put a few in the net now."
Signed by Colorado as an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 19, Nichushkin is averaging 13:13 of ice time per game, including time on both special-teams units with an average of 1:48 on the power play and 59 seconds on the penalty kill.
Nichushkin was drafted 10th overall by Dallas in 2013 and recorded 74 points (23 goals, 51 assists) in 223 career NHL regular-season contests over the course of four seasons with the Stars.
"We saw him in Dallas. He got drafted as a skill player, a guy that can score, has hands, obviously that is why he went so high," said Bednar. "He was turned into more of a checker with a little bit less opportunity in Dallas, and we liked him from that aspect. We felt like he had more to give on the offensive side, and now we are seeing a little bit here and hopefully that can continue."
Video: Coach Jared Bednar after the Avs' win in Toronto
Nichushkin's next chance to help the Avalanche will come quick as Colorado will complete its fifth back-to-back set of the season on Thursday at the Montreal Canadiens.
"Preparation now is key and get recovery in. Quick flight so we don't get in too late, but ready to go tomorrow," said Philipp Grubauer. "It's going to be a big game. We are playing a good team, they lost a couple in a row but I think they are starting to figure it out again so we are expecting a tough game."
Colorado is now 4-1-0 in the first matchup and 2-2-0 in the second when playing on consecutive nights. The Avs have swept two of their back-to-backs, split one and got swept in another so far this year.
The Avalanche wrapped up its two-game season series against the Maple Leafs, finishing 1-1-0 against Toronto. Colorado has won its last four games at Scotiabank Arena and is 8-1-1 in its last 10 contests in the city of Toronto.
The Avs finished 1-for-3 on the power play and have scored a goal with the man advantage in three straight games, going 3-for-10 (30 percent) in that span.
Nathan MacKinnon notched his seventh power-play goal of the season, tied for fifth (San Jose's Evander Kane) in the league. MacKinnon's 18 total markers in 2019-20 are tied for fourth (Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl).
Video: COL@TOR: MacKinnon rips PPG into the top shelf
MacKinnon has points in eight straight games (seven goals, 11 assists) and extended his goal streak to five games, one shy of matching the longest such run of his career (Oct. 4-16, 2018).
He has had multiple points in his last four outings, the third time in his career he has had four or more consecutive games with multi-point performances (also: Nov. 18-28, 2018 and Oct. 28-Nov. 5, 2017). MacKinnon is the 11th player to register multiple points in four straight games this season and the second Avalanche player, joining Andre Burakovsky--who had points in four straight outings from Nov. 14-21.