BOSTON — Cale Makar sat at his stall and stared ahead as if entranced. He was the last Avalanche player remaining in the dressing room after a 5-1 loss to the Bruins, but he hadn’t removed his skates yet. A burden he feels on his shoulders, already unfair in scope, had just multiplied yet again.
“It starts with us at the top,” he said. “Individuals like myself, guys at the top, we need to hold ourselves to a better standard and not allow the trickle-down effect.”
Another injury, another reason for the weight of responsibility to increase.
The Avs (13-8-1) are managing to survive without a list of important contributors, but every time it seems they have reached the distinction of thriving, another man leaves the ice and waddles directly to the locker room. Top-line wing Artturi Lehkonen, recently removed from a nine-game point streak, became the latest uncertainty Saturday when he exited the game with an upper-body injury in the first period.
After that intermission, coach Jared Bednar thought the Avalanche’s energy and intensity was gone. He attributed that to “frustration.”
Whether Lehkonen’s case turns out to be inconsequential or severe, the effect on teammates is plain exhausting.
“We have to be mentally tough,” Bednar said. “We still have the ability to win hockey games, although the margin for error is shrinking. You feel like at times you have to be almost perfect in order to win.”
That sentiment is consuming the Avalanche stars most. Both Makar and Mikko Rantanen repeatedly returned to the “no excuses” adage after the loss to Boston, though anyone could read off Colorado’s current roster and count as many as nine excuses.
“I think it affects us, of course,” Rantanen said. “We’ve been doing a good job stepping up always, with a couple injuries. But then you have seven guys out from your starting — what your lineup usually is — it’s hard. Especially against a team like (Boston).”
Would a game like this one have turned out differently if Colorado was even a little bit healthier?
“Well, we’re missing good players, right? One plus one is two, right?” Rantanen told The Post. “If you have good players — like, big, important players back — it’s different, obviously.
“But like I said, no excuses. Injuries happen in sports.”
One plus one does in fact equal two. So Rantanen and company understand the obvious reality of their increasingly bizarre and unlucky situation.
Valeri Nichushkin had scored seven goals in seven games when an ankle injury beckoned. No youngster on the roster has a higher ceiling than defenseman Bo Byram, but ascending toward it is a challenge when sidelined for what reaches the one-month mark on Monday. Evan Rodrigues chose Colorado in free agency, signing a one-year deal for a prove-it season, and he was finding his stride as a versatile power play and penalty kill option when he went down. Gabriel Landeskog is Gabriel Landeskog.
That covers half of the Avalanche’s current injuries.
“Some of the best players in the world are out, so it’d be nice to get them back,” Nathan MacKinnon said in November.
“In-game, you have a guy that goes down, obviously a really key piece for us right now in Lehky, and it’s unfortunate,” Makar said. “We just have to find a way. Whether it’s simplifying things, rotating guys in and out. For us, it’s unfortunate, but … we can’t get down on ourselves because guys keep going down.”
With the league-best Bruins bearing down — “best team in the league, with no injuries, basically,” Rantanen called them — that challenge reached new levels Saturday night. The Avalanche lineup became an iteration of itself that seems almost impossible to resemble what it will look like in the playoffs. So how does a coach even evaluate a game like this one, knowing that?
“Effort, competitiveness, attitude, being the main three,” Bednar said.
Winning that evaluation is easier said than done, as was the case in Boston.