DENVER -- Teenaged rookie Nathan MacKinnon showed again Saturday that he can more than hold his own in the NHL. The 18-year-old center collected a goal and two assists to lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 7-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Pepsi Center.
MacKinnon, the first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, leads all rookies in scoring with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 54 games.
"He is a special player," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I see huge improvement in his game and it's fun to see."
The Avalanche (35-14-5) have won three in a row, are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games and have beaten the Sabres seven consecutive times since Dec. 4, 2005. It was the first time the Avalanche scored seven goals in a game since March 6, 2012, against the Minnesota Wild.
"We weren't ready to go from the get-go," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "We should have had some energy. We should have had more energy than frustration. We never put a body on anyone. It was a very ugly game to watch. This shows where we are. There are guys that don't get it. There are guys that are continuously making mistakes."
Buffalo (15-31-8), which is last in the NHL standings, failed to win a second consecutive game for the first time since they did it Dec. 17-19. The Sabres are 2-5-3 in their past 10 games.
"We wanted to make sure that we respected that club," Roy said. "It was our last game before the Olympic break in front of our fans and our players wanted to please our fans as well. It was exciting for everybody."
MacKinnon's play more than made up for the absence of forwards Paul Stastny (ankle) and Alex Tanguay (knee). Centering a line with Gabriel Landeskog and PA Parenteau, who was a healthy scratch the previous two games, MacKinnon completed the first three-point game of his NHL career.
"Things were going well, our line was clicking," MacKinnon said of a unit that combined for three goals, three assists and nine shots. "We did a pretty good job. All three of us bring something different. Landy's one of the best players protecting the puck and PA's a great passer. I tried to back them up with my skating, but everyone on the team pitched in."
Landeskog and Jamie McGinn scored two goals apiece and Erik Johnson matched his career high for points in a game with three assists. Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who is on a 12-1-1 roll, made 27 saves.
"Hey, we played a good game," Roy said. "It's not because we're missing players or this and that. I think our guys were sharp. We were skating well, I thought we moved the puck well, we were also moving very fast, and that was the key. It was a beauty watching our guys today."
The Avalanche have had trouble protecting third-period leads, but that wasn't the case Saturday. Colorado took a 5-1 lead into the third and added to it on goals by Landeskog and McGinn.
"We didn't want to let them get back in the third period," MacKinnon said. "We wanted to finish them off."
MacKinnon, who has three goals and four assists during a four-game point-scoring streak, set up goals by Tyson Barrie and Landeskog in the first period when the Avalanche took a 3-0 lead, then scored during a power play at 16:29 of the second to make it 5-1.
McGinn and Marc-Andre Cliche, who scored his first NHL goal in 49 games, also put pucks behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who was replaced by Jhonas Enroth to begin the third period.
"It was obviously a hard game for us, a very tough game for us," said Miller, who gave up five goals on 27 shots. "We have to come to compete from the start. That's where we lost the game. It's always embarrassing when you give up seven goals. We made mistakes and then the puck is in our net. It just didn't stop."
The Avalanche took their first-period lead on goals by Barrie, McGinn on a power play and Landeskog.
Barrie scored at 7:37 after MacKinnon flubbed a shot. The puck went to Barrie, who scored from a sharp angle on the right side. Barrie has two goals and three assists in a four-game point-scoring streak.
McGinn tipped in Johnson's shot at 11:49 with 14 seconds remaining on a double minor to Buffalo's Mike Weber for high-sticking Matt Duchene. McGinn was at the edge of the crease when he tipped the puck past Miller's left pad.
Landeskog scored 58 seconds later at 12:47 to cap a 3-on-2 Avalanche rush. MacKinnon skated down the right side and waited until the last moment before sliding the puck to Landeskog driving down the middle. Landeskog, who has two goals and five assists in a five-game streak, scored into a half-open net.
"The speed that he put on (to set up the goal) was magic," Roy said of MacKinnon.
Cliche, who played in one NHL game in his six seasons with the Los Angeles Kings organization, scored at 6:05 of the second period for a 4-0 lead. After taking a carom off the end boards, Patrick Bordeleau passed through the goalmouth to Cliche, who tucked the puck inside the right post.
"Even when the puck was coming, I was thinking, 'Oh, you can't miss this one,' " Cliche said. "Finally it went in and a lot of weight came off my shoulders. It felt great. I've been thinking about it for a while. The boys, they don't give me a hard time, we joke about it in the locker room. It was a nice feeling coming back to the bench. Everybody was excited for me. That was the best part of the whole thing. I forgot how good it was to score, to be honest with you."
Bordeleau made sure to retrieve the puck for Cliche, who was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 22.
"Everybody was pretty happy for him on the bench," Roy said. "He works hard for us and he's valuable to us. He puts hard work into the PK and blocking shots. It's nice to see someone be rewarded."
The Sabres got on the board at 11:45 on a power-play goal by Matt D'Agostini, who put in the rebound of Tyler Ennis' shot.
MacKinnon answered off a drop pass by Johnson. Varlamov made a save and got the puck to Johnson, who weaved into the Sabres end and passed the puck to MacKinnon, who scored from the high slot.
Landeskog increased the lead to 6-1 at 7:36 of the third period with a shot past Enroth from the left circle. McGinn scored into a wide-open net at 10:07 off a pass from Ryan O'Reilly.