TORONTO– Nathan MacKinnon says there have been times this season when the Colorado Avalanche expected outside help that would never arrive.
Instead, faced with the prospect of driving down the stretch run to bid for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with no injured forwards Artur Lehkonen And Gabriel Landeskogthe defending champions understand that the only ingredients for a replay will come from their own dressing room.
Mackinnon said the Avalanche held a few team meetings earlier this season with one simple message: It’s time to wake up.
“Yes, you are in a lull,” said the striker on Tuesday. “And you know, I think we waited a bit for help and it didn’t come.
“It’s a good experience. It’s not coming either. We don’t have anyone really coming back any time soon, so it’s up to us for everyone to improve their game a little bit.”
That will indeed be Colorado’s mantra starting with Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena (7:00 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, SN1, TVAS, SN NOW). It will be the first game for the Avalanche since Lehkonen broke a finger in the second half of an 8-4 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, a game in which he had three points (two goals, one assist ) scored .
The 27-year-old, who has career-high goals (20), assists (29) and points (49) in 62 games this season, flew back to Denver on Tuesday and is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday. The expectation is that he will be out for 4-6 weeksalthough trainer Jared Bednar said they will have a better idea once the surgeon examines him.
Landeskog is skating after knee surgery in October, but Bednar said there was no timeline for his return. The Avalanche captain and top-six forward has missed all of Colorado’s 65 games this season.
Landeskog has 571 points (248 goals, 323 assists) in 738 NHL regular-season games and 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists) in 69 playoff games.
“No clarity,” Bednar said. “He’s just making progress. Slowly and steadily. He looks better. feels better Still not here. So he will keep grinding to come back as soon as possible.
“I don’t know when that will be. I don’t know if that will be the regular season or [the] postseason. It will all be up to him when he gives us the okay, but he’s making progress both on and off the ice.”
Meanwhile, the Avalanche find that none of the other 31 teams in the NHL have any sympathy for them. Despite the memories some of them saw of their 2022 Hockey Hall of Fame championship during a visit there Tuesday, that doesn’t matter this season.
MacKinnon, who leads Colorado with 81 points (29 goals, 52 assists) in 54 games, said entering a season after a Stanley Cup title has been a learning experience for the entire team. When asked if three-time cup winner Sydney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins had some advice to that end, he said the only suggestion passed on by his good friend and fellow countryman from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, was to keep grinding.
“By training camp, the trophy is up, and then you have your ring ceremony and you live in the previous year for a bit,” MacKinnon said. “You know, once you’ve been through it, you never really know how you’re going to react, and it’s tough…
“It just feels like you have to earn it again. It’s gone now, so I think we all feel that way. It’s over and we have to move on.”
There is no shortage of talent for this. Kal Makar, the winner of the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defenseman, said he feels relatively healthy after missing 13 games with various injuries, including symptoms of a concussion. Forward Mikko Rantanenwho has an NHL career high of 43 goals, said players like him, Makar and MacKinnon would take it upon themselves to carry more of the burden in the absence of Lehkonen and Landeskog.
The Avalanche are also without forward Darren Helmdefender Eric Johnson, Josh Manson And Kurtis MacDermidand goalkeeper Pavel Françouz. Everyone has a lower body injury.
“When guys start falling other guys have to start improving their game and on the forward side the responsibility is mine and ‘Nate’,” said Rantanen.
Despite the injuries, MacKinnon said other Western Conference teams should beware of the avalanche if they reach the postseason as expected. Colorado (37-22-6) is third in the Central Division with 17 regular season games remaining, four points behind second-place Minnesota Wild and seven points behind first-place Dallas Stars.
“I think we’re just trying to get in,” he said. “We feel comfortable playing against everyone.
“I’m sure if we get a wildcard spot, no one will want to see us in the first round. Hopefully we’ll get some guys back by then.”