MacKin­non presents tough test for Cal­gary backup

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - WES GIL­BERT­SON wgilbert­son@post­media.com

Cal­gary goal­tender David Rit­tich is fac­ing an Ever­est-sized chal­lenge when the Flames try to chill Avalanche sniper Nathan MacKin­non in Den­ver on Satur­day night.

There’s no doubt MacKin­non is Colorado’s top threat. A Hart Tro­phy nom­i­nee last sea­son, the speedy star from Sid­ney Crosby’s home­town of Cole Har­bour, N.S., tal­lied twice in Thurs­day ’s 6-1 thump­ing of the Buf­falo Sabres and has five goals in four out­ings this fall.

Rit­tich, usu­ally the backup to Mike Smith, stopped all eight at­tempts in 20 min­utes of mop-up work in a 5-3 loss to the Blues in St. Louis on Thurs­day. Here are five things to watch for when Colorado (3-1-0) hosts Cal­gary (2-2-0):

1.

Match­ing Mats? MacKin­non is rid­ing a four-game goal-scor­ing streak and can log his name in the club his­tory books with a snipe against the Flames. The fran­chise record for the long­est lamp­light­ing streak to start a new sea­son is five, set by Hockey Hall of Famer Mats Sundin back in the Que­bec Nordiques era.

2.

Back­lund banged up? Flames cen­tre Mikael Back­lund was M.I.A. for Fri­day ’s prac­tice in the Mile High City, with bench boss Bill Peters char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as a “main­te­nance day ” and telling re­porters he is op­ti­mistic No. 11 will be ready to roll against the Avalanche. It’s not a sure thing, though. If Back­lund is out, Mark Jankowski would re­turn to the lineup.

3.

Home on a high note? The flight home al­ways seems a lit­tle smoother af­ter a vic­tory. The Flames ac­com­plished a whole lot of good in Tues­day’s 3-0 shutout of the Nashville Preda­tors, then stunk for the first half-hour of ac­tion in St. Louis. If they can claim points in Colorado, con­sider this road trip a suc­cess. 4.

First of many? Free-agent sign­ings James Neal and Derek Ryan both tick­led twine against the Blues, each scor­ing their first in the Flam­ing C. The crew from Cal­gary needs more of that, es­pe­cially from the 31-year-old Neal. Thurs­day was also a mem­o­rable night for rookie Dil­lon Dube, who earned his first NHL point with an as­sist on Neal’s notch.

5.

Go­ing streak­ing MacKin­non isn’t the only guy on an of­fen­sive tear for the Avalanche. His left­winger, Mikko Ran­ta­nen, has hit the score­sheet in ev­ery con­test and tops the team with seven points. Alexan­der Ker­foot and Carl Soder­berg are also en­joy­ing four-game heaters.

David Rit­tich

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