Nathan MacKinnon entered Friday night with two NHL-leading streaks — points in 15-consecutive games and 263 games with a shot, a club record. The Avalanche star center, one of the best offensive players in the world, had zero points and no shots in a 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks at Ball Arena.
So much for the streaks.
But MacKinnon got in a fight with Kevin Labanc and sat in the penalty box for seven minutes late in the third period. His teammates and head coach loved his game.
“No. 1, obviously, somebody has to answer the bell. Nate was there and he did that,” Avs defenseman Cale Makar said. “I think it just goes to show the commitment that we have to each other on this team. Nate stepped in and got the job done for us.”
MacKinnon picked a fight with Labanc after the Sharks forward drove Avs defenseman Sam Girard into the end boards after a San Jose icing was waved off. Girard was trying to retrieve the puck at the goal line. Labanc stepped into him and Girard fell awkwardly into the boards, seemingly suffering an injury to his leg, ankle or hip. He did not return.
Postgame, Avs coach Jared Bednar commented on MacKinnon’s response to Girard’s injury without seeing the replay of the Labanc’s hit.
“When you go in there with your stick in his legs, and his legs come out and he goes full speed into the end boards, it’s not a safe play,” the coach said. “It’s not a smart play. It’s not something we want our guys doing. You can’t argue that the stick is in Girard’s legs. So I didn’t like the non-call. We’ll survive the non-call as long as Girard is able to come back and play. That’s my concern.”
As for MacKinnon’s response, Bednar said it was “acceptable” — like a doctor protecting his family from a thief the morning before major surgery.
“I just don’t want (MacKinnon) to get hurt doing it. He goes in, sticks up for a teammate, I come to expect that from him. He’s a highly competitive guy. He didn’t like the hit. I didn’t either,” Bednar said. “He’s on the ice and jumps in there and takes exception to it. To me, it’s always acceptable as long as he doesn’t get hurt doing it.”
Labanc’s hit on Girard was unpenalized. If the NHL doesn’t act upon it before Saturday’s rematch with the Sharks, the game could get chippy.
“It’s going to be a physical game (Saturday),” Makar said. “Who knows if tensions are going to boil over right at the beginning or not. But we have to be prepared for anything.”
Footnotes. Avs defenseman Ryan Graves suffered a lower-body injury early in the first period Friday and did not return. … Colorado is 13-0-1 in its last 14 games at home and is on a six-game winning streak. … Sharks forward Patrick Marleau played in his 1,773rd NHL regular-season game Friday, the all-time record. The 41-year-old surpassed Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, for the record on April 19. … The Avs are in the midst of their eighth back-to-back stretch. They are a combined 10-1-3 in those games, going 6-1-0 in the first (before Friday) and 4-0-3 in the second. They have swept their last two consecutive night spans: April 2-3 vs. St Louis and April 11-12 at Anaheim and vs. Arizona. They have two more back-to-backs in May.
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