In the first meeting between these two division rivals in nearly 21 months, the Colorado Avalanche had no problem handling the Nashville Predators in Denver Saturday night, winning 6-2. In a contentious game, Colorado exploited Nashville’s undisciplined play to prevent back-to-back losses and to notch their seventh victory in their last eight games.
Colorado once again had contributions from up and down the roster, with 10 players tallying at least one point. Five Avalanche skaters had multipoint games, including Mikko Rantanen (4 points), Cale Makar (3 points), Nazem Kadri (2 points), Gabriel Landeskog (2 points), and Devon Toews (2 points). For Makar, it was his sixth consecutive game with at least one point; he now has 12 points over that span.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Mikko Rantanen Dominant
With Nathan MacKinnon still recovering from a lower-body injury, Rantanen played center rather than right wing on the team’s top line, and more or less owned the game. The Nousiainen, Finland native had three goals, including two on the power play, and one assist. He was a presence throughout the game, forcing the Predators to fight for every loose puck deep in their zone.
Rantanen’s first goal came just 4:41 into the contest on an Avalanche power play. He received a pass on the tape of his stick from Landeskog and deflected the puck behind Nashville goaltender, David Rittich. His second goal, also on the power play, came on a one-timer from the right faceoff circle. Rantanen’s third goal came after a tremendous defensive play by Dante Fabbro to break up a two-on-one scoring chance from Kadri and Jayson Megna, but the puck took an unlucky deflection right onto Rantanen’s stick, who beat Rittich low on the blocker side.
But perhaps Rantanen’s most impressive play of the night was his assist. Using his big frame to block out Nashville defender and captain Roman Josi, he spun around and put the puck in the perfect spot for Valeri Nichushkin to chip it in, under Rittich’s glove.
Likely to play on the number one line for team Finland in the upcoming Olympic Games, Rantanen is a burgeoning star in the NHL. He led the Avalanche with 30 goals in 52 games last season, and has 18 points in 15 games so far this year, with 10 points in his last six contests. His two power-play goals last night give him six for the season, which is good enough for third in the league, trailing only Leon Draisaitl and Chris Kreider. When MacKinnon returns, the tandem will pose a seemingly unstoppable challenge for any defense in the league.
O Captain! My Captain!
Captain Gabe Landeskog had a two-point night, with assists on goals by Rantanen and Bowen Byram, who was back in the lineup for the first time in six games after sitting out with an upper-body (head) injury. But it was Landeskog’s physicality that drew the roar of the crowd.
After Landeskog inadvertently slid hard into Rittich, the Predators took exception and scuffled with several of the Avalanche players. Most notably, Mattias Ekholm grabbed the strap of Rantanen’s helmet and ripped it from his head. He then tossed the helmet along the glass and down the ice. The two had been sparring all night.
Landeskog, back on his feet after his collision with the goaltender, and knowing his role as the team captain, immediately went after Ekholm. He dropped the 6-foot-4, 215-pound defenseman with several hard punches to the head. The Avalanche captain received two minutes for roughing, five minutes for fighting, a 10-minute game misconduct, and the loud appreciation of the home crowd.
Good Prep for Upcoming Road Trip
After playing three of their last four games at Ball Arena in Denver, the Avalanche embark on a road trip across the continent that will see them play five games in eight days. They’ll face the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, and finish in New York City to face the Rangers.
The Avalanche, who have been hot of late, are still only 4-4-0 on the road, and the extended trip will be a test of the team’s fortitude. MacKinnon is expected to travel with the team and rejoin the lineup at some point during the road trip.
Colorado’s next game is Wednesday night, Dec. 1, vs. the red hot Maple Leafs (8-2-0 in their last 10 games) in Toronto.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.