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Avalanche's MacKinnon seeks first goal vs. Islanders

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com

ISLANDERS (6-3-0) at AVALANCHE (2-4-4)

TV: MSG-PLUS, ALT

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy is as surprised as anyone that Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon has yet to score a goal this season.

"If you said to me after 10 games Nate would have zero goals, I would never believe that," Roy said. "Unfortunately, it is what it is."

Roy and MacKinnon, who scored 24 goals as a rookie last season, are hopeful he'll end his slump Thursday when the Avalanche play the New York Islanders at Pepsi Center.

"I'm not worried. I think I'm playing pretty solid," said MacKinnon, who has four assists and 28 shots on goal. "I had some chances last game. Everybody has a next level to bring here, which is exciting. I feel like everybody is motivated to play a little bit better and obviously I'm definitely a part of that group.

"Hopefully things change [Thursday]. The worst thing I can do is worry every night. It's a long season and we have lots of games left. Hopefully when one comes the net gets a little bigger. I don't want to change my game. I'm feeling good."

Roy said MacKinnon might be putting too much pressure on himself to live up to lofty expectations.

"He was compared to [Sidney] Crosby, he was the next Crosby, the next this and that," Roy said. "I guess those are big skates to fill. I think he went through different stages where he was a bit frustrated because he didn't score early on. Now he's getting on top of the hill. I think he was more positive last game, he enjoyed the game, he was skating, he had chances."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said MacKinnon is one of the Avalanche forwards his players will have to watch closely.

"His acceleration and the way he plays the game, he's just as fast with the puck as he is without the puck," Capuano said. "They've got a good mix up front with some speed. This particular young player shoots the puck in stride extremely well."

The Islanders (6-3-1), in first place in the Metropolitan Division, will start goalie Chad Johnson instead of Jaroslav Halak in the first of a five-game road trip. New York is averaging 3.88 goals per game, but Halak has lost three consecutive decisions and owns a 3.51 goals-against average and .889 save percentage.

"He's our guy. He's our leader," Capuano said. "We want him to take a step back, relax, have some fun, enjoy it, and we know the way he can play. He's a big part of our hockey club."

Here are the projected lineups:

ISLANDERS

Cory Conacher - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Mikhail Grabovski - Frans Nielsen - Nikolay Kulemin

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Calvin de Haan - Brian Strait

Chad Johnson

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Matt Donovan

Injured: Josh Bailey (hand), Matt Carkner (back), Michael Grabner (lower body), Travis Hamonic (upper body)

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Matt Duchene - Ryan O'Reilly

Jamie McGinn - Nathan MacKinnon - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Daniel Briere, Zach Redmond

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Capuano said Hamonic "is getting right where he needs to be. He probably was real close to playing [Thursday], but we'll hold him off." ... Capuano said Bailey might play at some point on the five-game trip. ... Guenin will replace Redmond after being a healthy scratch the past four games. ... Winchester is wearing a non-contact jersey again. "There's some good days, there's some bad days," Roy said. "He's going to continue to work with the process. We're not going to push on him."

Who's hot: Okposo has a point in nine of 10 games, with a goal and three assists in a four-game scoring streak. ... Tavares has a point in eight of 10 games. ... Nielsen has four goals and an assist in the past four games. ... Tanguay has four goals and two assists in a six-game scoring streak.

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