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Nathan MacKinnon, Avs looking to click against Canucks

Jan 2, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) controls the puck in the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Having their best player back in the lineup was supposed to reignite the Colorado Avalanche. It hasn’t happened yet, as the defending Stanley Cup champions will look to snap a four-game losing skid when they hit the road to face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

Colorado star forward Nathan MacKinnon has been back for two games, and the one goal and one assist he netted in his latest outing weren’t enough in the Avalanche’s 3-2 home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday. MacKinnon had missed nearly four weeks due to an upper-body injury.

Granted, the Avalanche remain without a handful of other standouts, but the struggles are wearing on the club that sits outside a playoff spot, albeit with multiple games in hand on the clubs above in the standings.

The Avalanche can bask in having the uber-talented McKinnon back in the fold, but their defensive play was a big issue against the Golden Knights.

“We didn’t manage the puck very well at all,” coach Jared Bednar said. “We had some turnovers that were unforced coming out of our zone, which came back on us.”

That said, Colorado has another issue that must be addressed: the power play. The Avalanche struggled on the man advantage without MacKinnon for 11 games, going 4-for-30. In the two games since he returned, they have failed to convert any of their eight chances.

“I haven’t practiced it once since I’ve been skating,” MacKinnon said, “so it’ll be nice to get a couple touches and go over some video.”

The Avalanche may have more reinforcements soon with forwards Valeri Nichushkin (ankle) and Evan Rodrigues (upper body) on the road trip, but Bednar said he is unsure when they will play.

The Canucks have problems of their own, as they took their third consecutive loss when they fell 6-2 to the visiting New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Bo Horvat scored both Vancouver goals, which gives him a team-high 28 on the season, but he is not hiding his disappointment in the club’s situation.

“The personal success really doesn’t mean much right now that we’re not getting wins,” Horvat said. “That’s what we want to do here, we want to make the playoffs and we want to be in contention.”

The Canucks have the same record through 37 games (16-18-3) as last season’s disappointing campaign, and are well aware how hard it will be to overcome their deficit in the standings to make a playoff berth possible.

“If you sit there and say, ‘OK here, we need 27 wins over the next 40 games,’ then it’s a daunting task,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If you win the week, eventually you get there, but if you say you need 10 wins in a row, it’s pretty hard to do.

“Nobody’s stupid in there. They know the daunting task. They know the wins and losses and everything. We’re just fortunate at this point that it seems like most of the teams in the Pacific Division don’t want to jump up and run away. They keep giving us life, but eventually we’ve got to get our own life.”

It would help if the Canucks wouldn’t crumble at the first sign of trouble. Vancouver held an early lead in two of its past three losses. Watching leads disappear has been an ongoing issue all season.

“As soon as something bad happens to this team, the adversity, we cannot handle and it seems like ‘Oh, here we go.’ And then that’s it,” Boudreau said.

–Field Level Media