Sports

MacKinnon, Avalanche off to hot start, face Flames next

Nathan MacKinnon was a legitimate MVP candidate last spring but finished second to Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils in the voting.

Had he gotten off to a faster start in 2017-18, the Colorado Avalanche center might have won the Hart Trophy over Hall.

He wont have to worry about a slow start to this season hurting his chances. After scoring just one goal in his first 10 games last year, MacKinnon has five goals in the first four games this year. He scored two in Colorados 6-1 win at Buffalo on Thursday night, and he hopes to keep the momentum going when the Avalanche host the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

It took MacKinnon 15 games last year to get his fifth goal and he still finished with a career-high 39. After putting in a lot of work in the offseason, 39 goals looks like a low number or MacKinnon.

“Its always nice to get off to a good start,” he told reporters after Thursdays win. “It takes some pressure off you, for sure. You get a few on the board quick and early. Last year wasnt a great start for me, but I got going. Hopefully, I can continue this momentum for the whole season.”

The Avalanche (3-1) hope their fast start overall can continue and prove the loss in Columbus was a blip. They responded with a big win over the Sabres, now they have one home game before heading back on the road for four more.

Colorado, which assigned center Sheldon Dries to the AHL on Friday, is getting contributions from all four lines and the defense, which has translated into 17 goals in the first four games.

Calgary (2-2) is coming of a 5-3 loss at St. Louis on Thursday night. The Flames took a 1-0 lead on a goal by free-agent signee James Neal but then the Blues scored three straight, including one 12 seconds after Neal.

There was a scary moment when Calgary superstar Johnny Gaudreau took a big hit from St. Louis forward Alex Steen after Gaudreau grabbed Brayden Schenn. He came up wincing but said he was fine.

“The slash was a little more than the hit, but Im alright,” Gaudreau told sportsnet.ca after the game. “(Schenn) got me in the hand there. I kind of looked down and the guy stepped up and hit me.”

Gaudreau is a lithe 165 pounds and one of the faster players in the league. He has taken a couple of hits this season, which is worrisome, but Gaudreau shrugged them off.

“In Nashville the guy poked my skate out and I probably would have avoided the hit if I didnt get my skate poked out, and tonight I looked down at my finger when I got slashed and didnt see the guy step up on me,” he told sportsnet.ca. “Both probably would have been avoided if those two plays didnt happen before the hit.”

Colorado fans would rather have the dynamic Gaudreau on the ice, as long as the Avalanche win. With the way MacKinnon is playing they have a good chance, even with Gaudreau in the lineup.

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