Wild hope to slow Avalanche's high-scoring line
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It's just about time someone came up with a nickname for these guys.
Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have been more than the Colorado Avalanche's top line the last season-plus. They've pretty much become a human cheat code, able to rack up points against almost anyone.
No less an expert than NHL Hall of Famer Mike Modano took to Twitter Friday night during Colorado's 6-3 win over Ottawa to call them the best line in hockey. Based on that game and the Avalanche's 7-2-2 start, it's a legitimate claim.
They are the Minnesota Wild's problem Saturday night when the Central Division rivals meet at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., in Minnesota's last home game before a marathon seven-game road trip starts Monday night in Vancouver.
While the Wild (5-2-2) have won four straight games, including a 4-1 decision Thursday against stumbling Los Angeles, this will be a supreme test. Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are coming off a 10-point game against the Senators.
Rantanen picked up four points with a goal and three assists, giving him an NHL-high 20 points on five goals and 16 helpers in 11 games. MacKinnon and Landeskog each bagged a goal and two assists. MacKinnon has nine goals and nine dimes, while Landeskog checks in with nine and six.
Rantanen and MacKinnon have scored in every game but Wednesday night's 1-0 shutout loss at Tampa Bay's hands.
"It's a big honor to be there," Rantanen said to nhl.com after he tallied two goals in Monday night's 4-1 win at Philadelphia. "You can't do it alone. I have to thank my linemates; those are two pretty good players to play with."
Not that Colorado's other players are exactly along for the ride. Friday night's win enabled the Avs to tie Nashville for first place in the division. No team has more points than the Avalanche and Predators, who stand at 16 points each.
Minnesota has picked up its pace after a poor start in which it was outshot and outpossessed with alarming regularity. Since falling 4-1 in the season opener at Colorado Oct. 4, the Wild have eaten just one regulation loss.
Thursday's win was an example of Minnesota's defense and depth. The Wild killed off three penalties in the last 7 1/2 minutes of the game while clinging to a one-goal edge, then sealed the outcome with a pair of empty-net markers in the last 45 seconds.
The unlikely offensive hero was fourth-liner Eric Fehr, who scored his first goal with Minnesota late in the first period and added an assist on Mikko Koivu's empty-netter. Fehr and Marcus Foligno also played a key role on the penalty kill down the stretch.
"Their sticks are phenomenal," said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 23 shots in the win. "They're making big blocks and they're doing great down-ice pressure, so when you can kind of have a combo like that that can get them more minutes, it's going to be big for us."
Dubnyk (4-1-2, 1.95 goals-against average, .946 save percentage) is expected to start in goal for the Wild opposite Semyon Varlamov (4-1-2, 1.56, .953), who rested Friday night as backup Philipp Grubauer stopped 21 of 24 shots for the win.
Updated October 27, 2018