It started with a Mikko Rantanen homecoming hat trick. It ended with the Avalanche’s most convincing win of the young 2022-23 season.
The Avalanche (6-4-1) swept its back-to-back with the Blue Jackets in the NHL Global Series in Finland on Friday and Saturday. Here are five things we learned from Colorado’s trip.
Finnish scorers get loud applause, but MacKinnon stars
They sang his name and surrendered their hats. Rantanen treated Finland to a hat trick Friday, including the go-ahead goal with 11:06 remaining in a 6-3 win. Not wanting to be left out, fellow Finnish wing Artturi Lehkonen scored 33 seconds into Saturday’s 5-1 rout.
There was a constant, too: Nathan MacKinnon.
Rantanen’s third goal on Friday was by design. Pursuing an empty net with a 5-3 lead, MacKinnon halted the puck in the offensive zone and waited for Rantanen to do the honors.
“I knew he was probably going to pull up and maybe look for me, so I just skated up there,” Rantanen told Altitude TV. “Good pass. … Tells how good of a player he is. And nice guy, I would say.”
MacKinnon also dished the puck to set up Lehkonen’s goal in an odd-man rush. The center tallied seven assists overseas. He returns home with a team-leading 19 points, 16 of which are assists.
Avalanche’s 3D power play unit proves it’s no novelty
J.T. Compher tipped in a Devon Toews shot with six seconds remaining in a first-period power play Friday. Toews was one of three Colorado defensemen spearheading the second unit, along with Sam Girard and Bo Byram. (Girard and Toews were credited with assists.)
It was only the 23rd NHL power play goal scored with three defenders on the ice since the league started tracking shifts in 2009-10. It was Colorado’s first.
Jared Bednar has enough offensively gifted defensemen that a 3D power play line makes sense while forward depth is lacking, unusual though it may seem.
Bednar knows Makar best
Speaking of defenders who can score at a high rate, the shocker of the season through nine games was Cale Makar’s lack of a goal. The defending Norris Trophy winner finally broke through Friday.
He assisted three goals in the second game while playing outstanding defense.
A week earlier, his coach called it.
“Cale, I’ve noticed over the last few years that it takes him a little while to get his rhythm of his game,” Bednar told The Post in New York. “He’s still playing good hockey. Obviously still making an impact every night. But the more we’re on the ice as a team and the more our team kind of gets its rhythm, the better Cale plays. … As we get some normalcy to our schedule, I would expect Cale to really kind of come on.”
Forward lines: more musical chairs without Nichushkin
Second-line right wing Valeri Nichushkin didn’t play in Finland, making it four games he has missed with a day-to-day injury. Trying to balance the scales, Bednar swapped left wings Lehkonen and Evan Rodrigues between the first and second lines Friday, an arrangement the coach was pleased with last week. The coach also mixed up his lines mid-game more than usual.
But on Saturday, Lehkonen was back on the top line, Rodrigues was moved to second center and Alex Newhook played left wing.
The formula worked. Newhook scored his second goal of the season on a gorgeous Rodrigues assist. In Nichushkin’s spot, Martin Kaut scored his first goal since Feb. 29, 2020.
Colorado might prefer to stick with Newhook on the wing and Rodrigues centering the second line once Nichushkin is back.
Marginal penalty kill progress
Columbus arrived in Finland as the last NHL team without a power play goal (0-for-25). It scored twice on Colorado.
Alexandar Georgiev surprisingly started both games in goal for the Avalanche. He remains stellar at five-on-five with only 13 goals allowed in eight games, but he has allowed eight power-play goals.
Still, Colorado killed six penalties. Progress is evident. After allowing nine goals in the first 20 power plays of the season, the Avs have only allowed three goals in the last 21.