Avs’ Mikko Rantanen scores twice in win to complete historic first half of season


Point to any number of shortcomings as a primary reason for the Avalanche’s dramatic malfunction toward the halfway point of the 2022-23 season: injuries, lack of organizational depth, a short offseason catching up in the form of fatigue.

But when a short slump stretches, the absent voice of captain Gabriel Landeskog is maybe the most undeniable void. Who fills it? Mikko Rantanen said Friday afternoon that Nathan MacKinnon and Andrew Cogliano have been speaking up, but the Finnish forward has a knack for instilling a sense of urgency as well: “There’s time,” he said, “but not too much time. Can’t keep waiting around.”

He and the Avalanche didn’t wait around to seize a morale-boosting home win Saturday night, 7-0 over the Senators to at least temporarily erase memories of seven losses in the previous eight games.

“That’s two of our best outings all year in the last four games,” coach Jared Bednar said, referring to Colorado’s recent win at Edmonton. “So I’d rather think of it that way. We can’t go and win eight games in a row tonight. We have to figure out what it is that makes us tick, and I think we did that tonight.”

Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen and Alex Newhook all scored twice, and backup goalie Pavel Francouz delivered a 29-save shutout in his second consecutive start after Alexandar Georgiev had started the last 12. Bednar said he wanted to give Georgiev a longer mental break after he carried the load during Francouz’s recent injury. He also thought Francouz played well in Thursday’s loss at Chicago, which the coach said was perceived more harshly than it should have been.

The Avs (21-17-3) ended a streak of 21 consecutive games in which they never acquired a three-goal lead. The last time they led by that margin was Nov. 26 1 a 4-1 win against Dallas.

“There’s a lot of hockey to be played, so I don’t want our guys being tight and trying to play the perfect game,” Bednar said. “Because tight is slow, and loose is fast.”

Colorado rolled out seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the first time this season, with the third-line center left blank on the lineup card. The other three centers plus Rantanen traded double-shifts between Cogliano and Logan O’Connor.

Bednar kept Rantanen and MacKinnon on different lines, but they happened to be taking a first-period shift together when a rush developed. MacKinnon left a drop pass for Rantanen, who ripped No. 28 of the season to start the scoring.

It was already 3-0 by the time he broke a Joe Sakic franchise record. Rantanen carried into the zone, made a no-look drop pass for Newhook as the wing skated across the blueline, then was ready on the receiving end of the give-and-go. Newhook maneuvered between two defenders and flicked the puck back to Rantanen, who shot in stride from the left faceoff circle.

His 29th goal surpassed Sakic’s Avalanche scoring record at the halfway point of a season. Rantanen leads the league with 24 even-strength goals, and he has scored a staggering 24.2% of the team’s goals (28.9% at even strength).

He is on pace for 58 goals and 106 points.

“Determined player,” Bednar said. “Wants to make an impact every night, and has made an impact on basically every night.”


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