MacKinnon presents tough test for Calgary backup
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.