Can the best line in hockey save the Colorado Avalanche?
Team needs MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio to keep piling up the goals
Before Colorado Avalanche third-line centre Carl Soderberg jabbed the final dagger into the heart of the Toronto Maple Leafs with his third goal of the game.
Before Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner was booed by the local supporters for his lack of determination. Before Colorado's 6-3 win in Toronto on Monday evening, the debate was whether or not it was time for Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar to break up the best line in hockey.
The 46-year-old former defenceman from Yorkton, Sask., had done it before, just after Christmas. But the brief move did not turn around his side's fortunes. Colorado kept losing – a lot. The Avalanche had turned a solid 17-7-5 start into a fight for its playoff lives.
The victory over the Maple Leafs only was Colorado's fourth in 17 outings, a reversal from last year when Colorado began with a middling 12-13-2 record and finished in a flurry with a 31-17-7 run.
So Bednar stuck with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche was the dominant team early but fell behind Toronto 2-0.
But then the best line in hockey went to work. Landeskog had an all-world deflection for his team's first goal. Rantanen then stripped Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri to score a dandy unassisted goal. All of sudden, the Avalanche were tied against one of the better clubs in the game.
Thanks to Soderberg's first career hat trick the Avalanche scored a massive victory, with the hope of better times ahead.
WATCH | Highlights from Colorado's win:
Teams can't get by with 1 player
There's no secret the NHL is a league you can't get by with only one good player, or one good line or one dominant d-man or a sensational netminder.
The difference between the Avalanche's finish a year ago and start in the first eight weeks of the season is the secondary scoring was there, the goaltending was better and so was the penalty kill. But those three areas were abysmal in this slide.
Colorado was a decent team because of the success of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog, and it was Bednar's belief that's how his team was going to skate out of its slump.
"I think they're one of the best lines, if not the best line, in the league," Bednar said before the game. "So if we're going to get out of this thing, we're going to lean on those guys heavily."
The two goals by Landeskog and Rantanen expanded the big line's total to 75 in 46 games, meaning it has accounted for 47.7 per cent of Colorado's 157 goals.
In comparison, Calgary's Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm have scored 73 of the Western Conference-leading Flames 173 goals (42.2 per cent).
There is something extra special about the dazzling play of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog. The Canadian, MacKinnon, combines speed and power like no other. The Finn, Rantanen, can finish. Landeskog, a Swede, is a complete 200-foot player.
All three will be going to the all-star game in a couple of weeks, but before they get to San Jose it will be interesting to see what's in store for this talented trio and its teammates. How will they emerge from this difficult five-game swing through Canada that will conclude in Ottawa on Wednesday, and so far has yielded losses in Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal before the win in Toronto?
Frustration hit the team hard in Calgary last week when MacKinnon was caught on camera yelling at Bednar, tossing a water bottle in disgust and telling his coach to "do your job."
Two days later, MacKinnon handled the controversy with class. He was apologetic and acknowledged he made a mistake with his tantrum. He felt Bednar should have been pulled the Avalanche goalie earlier in that game for an extra skater.
But times didn't get better that evening in Montreal as the Canadiens shut out the visitors 3-0 on Saturday. It only was the fourth time all season that the big line had failed to score.
Like most of the good ones in this game, there is something about MacKinnon that makes you believe the Cole Harbour, N.S., native will push the Avalanche through these problematic times.
"I said it the other night, that's what makes him so good," Bednar said rehashing the incident with MacKinnon. "He's a fiery guy, an emotional guy, and you have to play this game with passion and emotion. He does that on a nightly basis. It was a non-issue after the game and it's a non-issue now."