Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche Are Putting the NHL on Notice

Colorado made a statement in a Game 4 thrashing of the Arizona Coyotes, with their best player hitting the scoresheet and roughing up the competition.
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Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Be forewarned: Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche unlocked a new level on Monday night and it is scary. Not only did the Avs open up the Arizona Coyotes like an otter going to town on a clam, but MacKinnon made a statement late in the 7-1 blowout by ragdolling Arizona’s Christian Fischer in a fight.

The fracas came after Lawson Crouse hit a turning Cale Makar near the benches, drawing a multiplayer scrum. MacKinnon originally got Fischer in a headlock and when the Coyotes power forward escaped, he gave MacKinnon some ill-advised high lumber.

“Fischer cross-checked the wrong guy in the face,” said Colorado’s Matt Calvert. “You saw what Nate did to him; he absolutely manhandled him. He probably could have thrown 10 punches and then knocked him out. You see Nate throwing offensive hits all series and he might lead the league right now in those. They tried to get to him and he’s just bigger than them.”

For the record, when Calvert posited that his teammate could have knocked Fischer out, MacKinnon – who was sitting next to Calvert at the press conference table – said “I don’t know about that…” But it certainly looked to be within the realm of possibility. Fischer is no small fry, either, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds. That was no problem for the six-foot, 200-pound MacKinnon, who tossed his adversary around and did indeed show mercy once perched on top of him.

And as fun as it is to talk about feats of strength and brutality in the midst of a playoff series, MacKinnon helped end Arizona’s night way before that. His patented speed-drive to the Coyotes net in the first period put veteran Arizona D-man Jason Demers in a spin and left the door open for Nazem Kadri to pop in the 3-0 goal past netminder Darcy Kuemper, who was rendered merely mortal by the Avs and was eventually replaced by Antti Raanta.

Kuemper had been a problem for the Avalanche up until this outburst.

“He’s been outstanding,” MacKinnon said. “He won them Game 3, for sure. We didn’t change anything (tonight), we just got some bounces. We know we’re one of the best goal-scoring teams in the league this year, so we try to stick with it. We’re such a deep team, that it was eventually going to go in.”

So this is where we paint with broad strokes: Colorado proved something with this victory. The Avs are facing a plucky Coyotes squad that can really lock it down, but the dam burst in Game 4. The Avalanche came into the playoffs as one of the top contenders in the Western Conference and now they’re picking up great experience at the expense of Arizona, because fighting through defense is what helps win championships. Locking down the opponent is a big part too and to that end, Colorado limited Arizona to just three shots in the first period. By the time Makar went end-to-end for the fifth Avalanche goal early in the third, the game was already way done.

On a whole, this is an Avs team that has so much going for it: speed, skill, size (embodied as a package by MacKinnon himself) and depth. This particular cohort hasn’t made a deep playoff run yet, but it’s really starting to look like this may be the beginning of that. Lessons are being learned, the machine is starting to fire on all cylinders and the team is gelling, with the Makar scrum being a perfect example. It was something coach Jared Bednar liked from all the skaters that were out there at the time, including MacKinnon.

“I loved his fire and the passion he has played with all series,” Bednar said. “He’s been physical at the point of the puck and away from the puck, checking hard and he gets involved. I love seeing our guys stick up for one another at the right times and coming together as a group. He’s one of our leaders and that just showed his character and his leadership.”

MacKinnon has already had a Hart Trophy-worthy season and now he has the chance to extend his excellent play far into the playoffs. And if he keeps up his beastly play, the Avs might just go all the way.

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