Nathan MacKinnon has a point on all five goals the Colorado Avalanche have scored in two games against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Second Round.
“He’s doing everything he can,” NBC broadcaster and former NHL forward Keith Jones said.
But it hasn’t been enough because MacKinnon hasn’t gotten near the help he needs for the Avalanche to win against the Stars, who have outscored Colorado 10-5 and lead the best-of-7 series 2-0 entering Game 3 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western hub city, on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).
Teams with a 2-0 lead are 328-51 (86.5 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series, including a 4-0 record in the first round.
“What’s hard for him right now is all their depth guys that have been so good, they all have bagels in this series so far,” NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes said. “I mean, it’s two games, but there’s a bunch of guys on the board that have been icy.”
MacKinnon has three goals and two assists against Dallas while his linemates, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, each has a goal and two assists.
The other 16 skaters who have played for Colorado in the series have combined for four assists.
“MacKinnon can’t be the one carrying the entire load,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens, an analyst with NHL Network. “There’s got to be some secondary scoring and some other guys have to pick it up, or else it will be a heck of a playoffs from Nate MacKinnon that goes to waste.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said he and his staff are talking about making adjustments, the biggest of which could be breaking up the top line to create more balance through the lineup.
“The one thing we’ve talked about is trying to move Landeskog away from [MacKinnon] and Mikko,” Bednar said. “They have a little something going on there, and Landy has historically and since we’ve been here has been able to help other lines.”
Bednar said he didn’t make the change through the first two games because he didn’t see enough from the candidates who could replace Landeskog, including Andre Burakovsky, who doesn’t have a point in the series.
“But it’s something we’ve certainly talked about and will look at for Game 3,” Bednar said.
Bruce Boudreau, former coach of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, said he thinks MacKinnon should play a Sidney Crosby role and move onto his own line with two new wingers.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017, Crosby routinely played with some of the younger and lesser known wingers, leaving bigger names like Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist to play on other lines.
“Nathan can play with anybody,” said Boudreau, who is providing analysis for NHL Network during the playoffs. “That’s what Sidney did when he got [Conor] Sheary and [Jake] Guentzel. It was, ‘Give me the minor league guys and I’ll make them great and strengthen the rest of the team.’ I think Nathan can make anybody great and if you strengthen the other lines, it might be beneficial.”
MacKinnon was forced to do that when Landeskog and Rantanen each missed 14 straight games from Oct. 30-Nov. 29. During that span, he had 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists), but the Avalanche were 7-6-1.
“Nate did it when both those guys were hurt,” Weekes said. “To that end, maybe you tinker with that. It wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, they’ve got to try something so maybe you do. Maybe you put Nate on another line and it’s him, Burakovsky and somebody else, maybe [J.T.] Compher. I don’t know. There’s no limit. He can play with anyone. They love the nuclear option that they have in that top line, but maybe you split that up and take Nate away from those guys completely.”
Boudreau said it could potentially create a problem for the Stars.
“It puts the onus on Dallas,” he said. “Who do we check now?”
And by moving the pieces around, even if it’s just taking Landeskog off the top line, Boudreau mentioned it could empower other players to step up in a bigger role and help the third- and fourth-line players rediscover their value.
“Once they got frustrated and got down, Colorado was just forcing MacKinnon’s line on the ice, coming right back with them rather than having the belief that the other guys can chip in here,” Boudreau said, specifically referring to Game 2 against Dallas. “Once you take that belief out of the third and fourth lines, they don’t do that good a job. You’ve got to make them feel important.”
Still, it all still hinges on MacKinnon and his ability to continue to be the Avalanche’s most impactful player and, arguably, the most impactful player in the League right now.
“This series is in his hands,” Jones said. “If Dallas finds a formula to slow him down, they’ll for sure win in four straight. If the Avalanche are going to win this series, it will be on the back of Nathan MacKinnon.”