The one thing everyone wants to talk about is the last thing on Nathan MacKinnon's mind.
The Avalanche (1-0-0) takes on the Predators (0-1-0) tonight at Pepsi Center (7 p.m., Altitude), and while Colorado has been the talk of the league since its dynamic Opening Night win against Anaheim, its game tonight against Nashville is one many pundits circled when the NHL schedule was released in July.
There’s a few storylines heading into the contest, paramount among them being the matchup between 2013 top-four draft picks MacKinnon and the Predators’ Seth Jones.
MacKinnon was the top selection in this summer’s draft—the Avs’ first No. 1 overall pick since moving to Denver—and the fourth selection was Jones, a defenseman who grew up in Denver while his dad, Ronald “Popeye” Jones, played with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
Many outside the Rocky Mountain region are interested in seeing how this battle plays out.
Not many inside the Avalanche locker room, however, are focused on it, including MacKinnon.
“I guess it crossed my mind, but I’m excited just to get this game out of the way so the ‘Seth-Nathan’ stuff might settle down a little bit,” MacKinnon said. “We’ve known each other since we were 14, before even all the draft stuff happened. It’s going to be fun to play him, but at the same time it’s going to be good to get the game over with, in terms of the ‘Seth-Nathan’ stuff.
“I’m really looking forward to tonight, though. I’m very excited.”
MacKinnon and Jones have known each for a while, and they played each other last spring in the 2013 Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup tournament.
MacKinnon was the tournament’s MVP, and his Halifax Mooseheads (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) defeated Jones’ Portland Winterhawks (Western Hockey League) 6-4 in the championship game.
MacKinnon is coming off a memorable NHL debut in which he had two assists and became the youngest NHL player since 1944 (Ted Kennedy) to score two or more points in a game. Jones played more than 18 minutes and had a plus-2 rating last night in Nashville’s 4-2 season-opening loss to St. Louis.
“It was a lot of fun that game, but it’s the past,” MacKinnon said of Wednesday's game. “As a team, we’re not satisfied. It was a lot of fun having the first game, but it’s going to be even more fun tonight if we get the second win and we head out of Denver with two [wins].”
With Nashville and Colorado in the same Central Division now after this offseason’s NHL realignment, tonight’s game could be the first chapter in a long story of “Seth-Nathan” matchups.
MacKinnon isn’t interested in stoking the rivalry’s flames, though.
The thing he’s most excited about tonight? Having his family in the stands for the second straight night after they flew in and watched him Wednesday. They’ll travel to Toronto, too, for the Avalanche’s first road game next Tuesday.
“They love to watch and support me,” MacKinnon said. "It’s great that they came up. They take off Sunday, so it’s good they get to come out to Denver and look around a little bit, too.”
THE CAPTAIN’S AWAY
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog won’t skate tonight after suffering a leg injury Wednesday against Anaheim. He sat out Thursday’s afternoon practice at Family Sports Center, and Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said he thought Landeskog might have a chance to play against Nashville.
He won’t and is listed as day-to-day.
“I know [Landeskog] came to the bench at some point [Wednesday] and talked to Matty (Avalanche head athletic trainer Matt Sokolowski) about the legs—something was wrong with his leg—but he kept going. This morning he already mentioned he’s feeling so much better. I think it’s very positive.
“We think he’s going to start skating on Sunday,” Roy said Friday morning. “He will be part of the [road] trip, starting with next week.”
Marc-Andre Cliche likely will take Mitchell’s spot and possibly play on the Avs’ penalty-killing unit, leaving the rest of the lineup untouched.
“I don’t really want to mix things right now,” Roy said. “I think Mitchell will be solid with [Paul] Stastny and Tanguay. It will be a great line, especially with a short-term injury like he has. There’s no reason for us to make big changes here.”
THE START WILL DETERMINE THE FINISH
There wasn’t much to be displeased with in the Avalanche’s 6-1 win Wednesday, but Roy said afterward that his team’s defensive play wasn’t quite what it needs to be, especially early.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who will be between the pipes again tonight, had 35 saves Wednesday, including some spectacular efforts in the first period that kept the Ducks off the scoreboard.
Nashville’s opening minutes in its opener last night in St. Louis weren’t up to its coach’s standard’s either, but the result was a 4-2 loss. The Blue scored three times in the first 10 minutes, and Predators’ starting goalie Pekka Rinne was pulled at the 9:45 mark.
“Nashville is a team that [works] really hard,” Roy cautioned Friday morning. “That’s the thing I saw last night. They’re going to compete; they’re going to back-check. They work hard. If we want to beat them tonight, we’re going to have make sure that we match that. If we don’t match they way they’ve been working, it’s going to be a battle here tonight.
“They played last night, and they lost. They were down 3-0 in the first, so expect them—they have a great coach—to have a great start. They’re going to want to have a good start. We’re going to have to be ready for the start of the game.”
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