TORONTO — Star center Nathan MacKinnon returned to the lineup on Wednesday and the Avalanche was blown out. Just as happened earlier this season.
Toronto superstar Auston Matthews scored three goals — his second to cap his first shift of the third period — and the Maple Leafs built an early 3-0 lead and pounded Colorado 8-3 before a crowd of 18,931 at Scotiabank Arena.
The Avs were blown out 6-3 at Washington on Oct. 16 after MacKinnon missed the first two games of the season because of COVID protocol. MacKinnon, who had two assists and generally played well against the Leafs, had missed the previous eight games before Wednesday with a lower-body injury.
“We just didn’t play good enough tonight,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said. “When you get in a hole like that, it’s tough. We’ll come back strong tomorrow.”
Colorado (11-7-1) fell to 4-5 on the road heading into Thursday’s game in Montreal against the Canadiens. Toronto won its NHL-leading 17th game and stand 17-6-1.
“Our habits in our game were not good to start and we had a lot of loop in our game. We were getting beat off the walls all over the place in our zone,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Countless scoring chances against starting in the first period. So that’s just a determination by them and a lack of commitment by us.”
Matthews and the Maple Leafs feasted on Avs goalie Jonas Johansson, who became the starter after Darcy Kuemper sustained an upper-body injury earlier in the day, likely at the morning skate in which he participated. Kuemper was not able to serve as backup and Colorado began the game with Toronto’s designated emergency backup, University of Toronto goalie Jett Alexander, on the bench.
The Avs recalled young goalie Justus Annunen earlier in the day from the AHL’s Colorado Eagles and, after a hectic afternoon of travel, he replaced Alexander on the bench to begin the second period. Johannson played the entire game, allowing three goals in each of the first and third periods.
“He wasn’t good,” Bednar said of Johansson. “Wasn’t good.”
The Avs got within 3-2 in the second period but trailed 5-2 after 40 minutes. Johansson surrendered a long shot from defenseman Travis Dermott at 12:44 — just 47 seconds after former Leafs forward Nazem Kadri got Colorado within one. Johansson then allowed a goal from Toronto captain John Tavares, who slapped in his own rebound from the crease at 16:28.
The Leafs had a far better start and got goals from forwards William Nylander, Jason Spezza and Matthews within the first 15 minutes. Nylander beat Johansson with a wrist shot from the right circle and Spezza pounced on a puck sitting in the crease behind the goalie. Matthews roofed a puck behind Johansson when he was left alone in front of the crease.
The Avs got on the board at 19:58 of the opening period when defenseman Sam Girard capped a nice play by MacKinnon and Logan O’Connor with a slap shot from the high slot.
Kadri scored his second goal of the game and 200th of his career late in the third period to make it 8-3.
Footnotes. Colorado’s lone healthy scratch was defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, who had played forward in the last two games. … Bednar said Kuemper will likely remain with the team and be evaluated daily instead of returning to Denver. The coach said he needed to meet with his staff and general manager Joe Sakic before deciding on Thursday’s starter in net. He’ll either see if Johansson can have a bounce-back performance or give Annunen, 22, his first career NHL start. Annunen on Wednesday was named the AHL’s goalie of November. He was 5-1-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .937 save percentage last month.
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