Jets Avalanche Hockey

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrates a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

On the first day of December, the Colorado Avalanche rolled into hockey-crazed Toronto for an early test and wilted, falling 8-3 to the Maple Leafs.

“I didn’t think we played well and they played really well,” coach Jared Bednar said Friday.

“The score was a good indicator of how that game went, in my opinion. We weren’t ready or willing to check the right way in that game and they lit us up on the scoreboard.”

It hasn’t happened often, and it’s worth noting that it wasn’t a routine day. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was ruled out after the morning skate. Nazem Kadri scored twice but the Avalanche were sloppy throughout and the five-goal loss is the worst of the season so far.

The teams meet again Saturday at Ball Arena. The Maple Leafs sit 22-8-2 and have won four straight.

“It’ll be a good reminder – it’s something we’ll talk to our guys about tomorrow,” Bednar said. “This is a dangerous offensive team, and they’ve been checking pretty hard and pretty well in their own zone and improving all aspects of their game. So we’re going to have to come and be ready.

“They’re a top team in the league right now. It’ll be a good measuring stick for us here just over 30 games into the season.”

The Avalanche have lost once in regulation since that game in Toronto (9-1-1). Colorado has won three straight out of a nearly three-week holiday break extended by COVID-19 issues.

The Avalanche (20-8-2) are tied for third in the Central Division with games in hand on everyone in the group except the Dallas Stars. 

The well-established top trio of Mikko Rantanen (1 goal, 2 assists), Gabriel Landeskog (3 goals, 1 assist) and Nathan MacKinnon (1 goal, 4 assists) took over Thursday’s 7-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado’s seventh 7-goal effort of the season.

“We were working hard and kind of bounced back a little bit. We were not really happy with our game in Chicago,” Rantanen said. “We always demand a high level of play.”

After the game, Bednar called it the line’s best performance of the season.

"There is some natural chemistry there, but I think a lot of work goes into that between those three guys as well. There's a lot of communication within the game, in between periods, after games,” the coach said Friday. “That chemistry is something that’s built over the years with their communication. They discuss almost every play when they come off the ice. They’re constantly grabbing iPads and talking through different situations.”

Bednar said forward Valeri Nichushkin and defenseman Jack Johnson wouldn’t play against Toronto but were “getting close.” Johnson left Tuesday’s game in Chicago. Nichushkin (upper body) hasn’t played since before the pause but practiced in a red non-contact jersey Friday at Family Sports Center.

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