Rising Avalanche square off with sinking Senators
The Boston Bruins have earned the buzz they've generated with what is turning into a historic season for the Original Six franchise. But the Colorado Avalanche have a message for the rest of the league: Don't sleep on the reigning champs.
"We feel comfortable playing anybody," Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said.
Colorado proved it with a 2-1 shootout win over the host Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, with the only goal in the shootout coming from MacKinnon. Back on track after a rough patch, the Avalanche will look for their fourth win in a row when they visit the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Colorado sits third in the Central Division. Still, despite injuries -- most recently, a finger injury sustained by Artturi Lehkonen on Monday in Montreal that will keep the forward out four to six weeks -- the Avalanche are surging as the season winds down.
The three wins have come on the heels of losing four of five and giving up seven goals in back-to-back games. The slide prompted internal discussions.
"Definitely. A couple meetings I think," MacKinnon told The Athletic. "Yeah, you get into a lull, and I think we were kind of waiting for help a little bit. And it wasn't coming. So it's good experience. It's not coming now either. We have no one really coming back soon. It's up to us for everyone to elevate our game a little bit."
MacKinnon has, producing a six-game points streak and 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in eight games this month.
Beating Toronto is a confidence boost, but Colorado can't take Ottawa for granted. The Senators are fighting for their playoff lives after going 1-4-0 on a road trip that ended with a 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.
The disappointing trek put a damper on Ottawa's postseason aspirations. The Senators are eight points behind the Islanders for the second wild card but have three games in hand on New York.
Ottawa was in a stronger position before the road trip, but the team hasn't lost any fight heading into its final 15 games.
"This group's not going to quit, not going to give in," coach D.J. Smith said after the loss in Edmonton, while looking ahead to home games against Colorado and Toronto. "We're not going to back down. We'll be ready."
The Senators also have a bit of revenge to use as motivation. The Avalanche pummeled Ottawa 7-0 in Denver on Jan. 14, a result that kicked off a six-game winning streak for Colorado. Lehkonen had two goals and an assist in that win, but he is out for the rest of the regular season.
The Senators did make a move ahead of the Thursday matchup, recalling 20-year-old forward Ridly Greig from AHL Belleville on Wednesday. It is Greig's second stint with Ottawa this season. He played 11 games earlier this season, collecting one goal and three assists.
In 35 games for Belleville, Greig logged 13 goals and 14 assists.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 16, 2023