Colorado Avalanche Get Nathan MacKinnon Back vs Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - MARCH 25: David Desharnais
EDMONTON, AB - MARCH 25: David Desharnais /

The Colorado Avalanche will get center Nathan MacKinnon just in time to start the final 25 games of the regular season.

The Colorado Avalanche are starting their home stretch today, the final 25 regular season games of the 2017-18 season. The team goes into today’s game three points out of a playoff spot with one game in hand over the teams above them in the standings.

The Avalanche are hosting the Oilers for this all-important game. Colorado, of course, is coming off an embarrassing 6-1 drubbing by the Jets in Winnipeg. Also slightly embarrassingly, the Oilers lost to the league-worst Arizona Coyotes yesterday.

Colorado and Edmonton have already met one time this season, a couple weeks ago on February 1. The Avalanche won in overtime with a goal from J.T. Compher. However, to even get to overtime, they blew a 3-1 3rd-period lead.

That was also their first game without Nathan MacKinnon

How to Enjoy the Game

Game time: February 18, 1:00pm MT
TV Networks: Altitude TV (Avs feed), SNW (Oilers feed)
Radio: Altitude Radio (AM 950)

Return of the MacK

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The only news in Avs Nation right now is that Nathan MacKinnon is returning. He missed eight games with a shoulder injury suffered in the November 30 game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Colorado Avalanche have sorely missed their best player. The team went 4-4-0 without MacKinnon in the lineup, but the offensive numbers dropped even more significantly than that record indicates. With MacKinnon, they had 3.27 goals per game and a power play at 20.3% Without himm they’ve scored an average of 1.65 goals per game, and their power play is at a league-worst (for the time period) 7.7%.

Prior to the injury, MacKinnon was on a line with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. That line got further broken up by Rantanene’s injury and eventually by juggling players around. For the last three games, Landeskog has been playing on a line with Alexander Kerfoot and Colin Wilson, while Rantanen has been with Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher.

However, it looks like the top line — which MacKinnon called “best in the NHL” — will be back together again today. Rantanen knows it will be good for the team:

"“I think it brings confidence for everyone. If he has a couple good shifts right away, it builds momentum for us. The crowd gets going and that way. It’s a big piece for us, and we’re happy to have him back.”"

Coach Jared Bednar is looking forward to having MacKinnon back, too:

"“He drives our offense in a lot of different ways, 5-on-5, power play. He’s been doing it all year, and he has a chemistry with that group, those three guys. I think they complement one another and I think that is why they have had a real strong year together… Offensively, it helps us with some matchups on the road and at home.”"

Everyone knows they can’t rely on MacKinnon alone. However, now that the Avalanche’s star center is back in the lineup, the team can get back to its usual lines. Here are the forward lines from yesterday’s practice:

Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Colin Wilson – Alexander Kerfoot – J.T. Compher
Matt Nieto – Carl Soderberg – Blake Comeau
A.J. Greer – Gabriel Bourque – Tyson Jost – Dominic Toninato – Nail Yakupov

Greer got sent back to San Antonio later in the day. If I had to hazard a guess on that fourth line, Bourque and Jost are definitely in. It’s a tossup between the other two.

Injury Update

The return of Nathan MacKinnon is the only good news on the injury front. Neither Sven Andrighetto nor Mark Barberio has returned to practice, and both have been put on injured reserve.

What’s more, the Avalanche have another fallen player — goalie Jonathan Bernier. He suffered a collision with a Jets player and a goal post in the second period and missed the third period. According to Bednar, he’s now in the concussion protocol. Colorado has recalled Andrew Hammond, but Semyon Varlamov will get the start against the Oilers.

Next: Dream Trade Deadline Move for the Avs

The Colorado Avalanche will face the Edmonton Oilers just one more time, on February 22 in Edmonton. After today, the team heads back up to Canada to face the Oilers in between games in Vancouver and Calgary.