Although he wasn’t all that interested in spending much time talking about the Mc vs. Mac series, it’s clear Nathan MacKinnon is fully embracing the opportunity to go head-to-head against the guy he himself has called the best player on the planet.
Through two games of this high-event hockey battle, MacKinnon is holding the edge — even if the raw numbers suggest they are tied at three points apiece.
MacKinnon has looked like a man on a mission so far, showcasing his explosive skating ability to generate offence, including an 11-shot — and 12-shot-attempt — showing in Thursday’s 4-0 victory for the Colorado Avalanche over the Edmonton Oilers.
MacKinnon’s goal — his 10th of the playoffs and 16th point in 12 games — came on a one-timer during a power play, but the strange wrinkle was that it came on a shift where Oilers goalie Mike Smith had lost his glove earlier in the play and he had his right hand behind his back to protect it as the shot snuck in on the blocker side.
There’s no shortage of effort being put forth by Oilers captain Connor McDavid and he still has the ability to make life uncomfortable for the opponent almost every time he touches the puck. But in Game 2, the Avalanche did an exceptional job of nullifying McDavid, limiting the playoff scoring leader (29 points in 14 games) to only two shots on goal.
MacKinnon’s line with Valeri Nichushkin and Gabriel Landeskog, with the defense pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews, continues to get the majority of the minutes against McDavid but since Leon Draisaitl spent much of the evening centering his own line, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar didn’t shy away from playing Nazem Kadri against the Oilers’ top unit at times.
Bednar went out of his way to mention that he didn’t think MacKinnon was getting enough credit for the job he’s been able to do without the puck through two games.
“I look at Nate and I see a guy that’s totally committed to winning,” said Bednar. “It doesn’t matter if he’s the guy getting on the scoresheet or not, he hasn’t cheated not one time in this series to date. Offensively, he’s getting on the right side of the puck. He’s still finding a way to contribute, but it’s a whole team effort. You don’t just check them with two guys. So all five guys on the ice have to be committed to that and everyone’s sort of bought into it.”