The absence of last season’s Norris Trophy winner, Cale Makar, didn’t slow down the reigning Stanley Cup champions one bit.
Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen scored two goals apiece to lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.
“It’s obviously impossible to replace Cale, the best D in the world. I think we came together as a team,” said Rantanen. “Just got to defend, that’s what we have to focus on.
“The goals are going to come.”
The goals did come, as Colorado staked itself to a 3-0 lead after the opening period and never looked back.
“Good execution in the first period,” said Avs coach Jared Bednar. “We were disciplined with the puck. We were making plays.
“Earned a couple power plays through hard work and took advantage of our chances.”
With their third straight win, the Avs climbed within two points of the Flames, who hold the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Colorado has three games in hand.
“I think we were as ready as we could be, they’re the champions,” said Calgary coach Darryl Sutter.
“They had 13 guys in the lineup tonight that won the Stanley Cup last year, we had one. Big difference. We’re still very much in the show me stage.”
The troubles for the home team began 6:17 into the first period when a defensive zone turnover led to J.T. Compher setting up Rantanen for a one-timer that went inside the goalpost.
Another miscue led to a second goal from the visitors at 11:01. After an offensive zone faceoff, a misplayed puck resulted in a 2-on-1 rush for Colorado in which MacKinnon set up Lehkonen.
Less than two minutes later, Lehkonen netted his second of the night and fifth in his last three games, burying a rebound off the end boards past Jacob Markstrom.
“Right away, even though shots were pretty tight, they had all the chances and we were flat and slow,” said Flames centre Elias Lindholm.
MacKinnon finished with a pair of assists for Colorado (23-17-3) to extend his point streak to six games.
Tyler Toffoli scored the lone goal for Calgary (21-16-9), which has suffered back-to-back losses.
Alexandar Georgiev made 34 stops to earn the victory and improve to 17-11-3.
Markstrom had 27 saves for Calgary. His record fell to 13-12-5.
“Obviously, we didn’t come out ready to go and they did,” said Toffoli. “They were faster in all areas of the ice – skating, passing and everything.
“We were trying to find our way back into the game, but they’re the defending champions for a reason.”
After a scoreless second period, the Flames broke Georgiev’s shutout bid on a power play 2:27 into the third. Toffoli sent a shot inside the goalpost for his 16th of the season.
But that’s as close as they would get with Georgiev shutting the door the rest of the way including a couple stops off dangerous chances by Blake Coleman.
“It feels really good,” said Georgiev, who made his first start in four games. “I got a little break from playing time, a little refresh for the mind. I would say the guys did such a good job.”
Rantanen put the game away with an empty-net goal as 58 seconds remained.
“That’s what we have to do more,” he said. “Just be ready to play right away from the start of the puck [drop] so if the opposing team is not on their toes we can take advantage and that’s what we did.”
Colorado was without reigning Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar, who was held out of the lineup against his hometown team due to an undisclosed injury. He’s listed as day-to-day. It’s the first game Makar has missed this season as he ends up having his six-game point streak snapped. The 24-year-old leads the NHL in average ice time (27:09).
Thirty goals again
Rantanen’s opening goal was his 30th of the season, giving him three consecutive 30-plus goal seasons and four for his career. He’s also the fastest to reach 30-goal mark since the franchise relocated to Colorado (43 games). Joe Sakic had done it in 44 games in 1995-96.
Avalanche: Head to Vancouver for a date with the Canucks on Friday.
Flames: Play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.