For the critics during the preseason who claimed that the Colorado Avalanche’s top line couldn’t repeat last season’s dominant performance, it appears your prediction is incorrect. Through the first nine games of the 2018-2019 season, the Avalanche have mounted 33 goals. Their first-line which consists of center Nathan MacKinnon, right winger Mikko Rantanen and left winger Gabriel Landeskog, have scored 20 of the 33 tallies.
The top line begins with MacKinnon, the heart and soul of this Avalanche team. Last season, the 23-year-old evolved from a good player into a fantastic one after putting up 97 points in just 74 games and falling just short in the race for the Hart Trophy which was won by an equally impressive campaign by Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils.
This season, MacKinnon has picked up right where he left off. So far, the Canadian native is tied for second in the league in goals at eight and third in points at 15. To top it off, MacKinnon set an Avalanche franchise record for being the first player to score goals in all six opening games of the season.
The surprises, and reliefs of Avalanche fans really start with Rantanen. Last year, the 21-year-old broke out in a big way during his second year in the NHL totaling 84 points in 81 contests. There was a lot of speculation during the offseason about whether or not the Finnish countryman would either impress or digress after last season’s homecoming.
It turns out, Rantanen has done more than impress, he has flat-out shattered expectations. The big 6’4” winger currently leads the league in assists with 12 and is tied for first in points with 16. The only player standing in his way of sole possession of that title is 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lastly, there is Landeskog, the captain of this Avalanche squad. The 25-year-old Swede is known to be the power forward of the first-line. Landeskog is efficient at getting in front of the goaltender’s eyes, deflecting in shots from the blue-line, popping in rebounds and overall doing the much-needed dirty work. His 62 points in 78 games last season showed that he was the workhorse that complimented MacKinnon and Rantanen.
However, this season Landeskog has proved that he too can produce at an elite level. Through the first nine contests, Landeskog has matched MacKinnon with eight goals and is at the moment tied for 11th in points at 12. He was also named the first star of last week by the NHL after putting up six goals and seven points in just three games including a hat trick against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. In addition, Landeskog currently leads the league with a plus-minus of 12.
“I think these three could be the best line in hockey right now” Avalanche commentator Peter McNab said before the season began. Considering the fact that there are numerous top lines in the NHL that are nothing short of terrifying, that is a bold statement to make. However, when comparing MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog to the rest of the league, McNab’s preseason prediction is spot on.
So far, the first-line for the Avalanche has amounted 43 points. Right now, the only other line in the NHL that has even come close to that number consists of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins with 36 points.
As a team, the Avalanche are currently tied for first in the NHL with 14 points and a 6-1-2 record. The only other team with the same amount of points are the Nashville Predators who have played one less game with a 7-1 record. The Avalanche are also on top of the league in goal differential with a plus 13.
Responsible defense by players such as Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard, Tyson Barrie and Ian Cole along with the rock solid goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer have also propelled the Avalanche into a winning team. However, it is the work of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog that take this Avalanche squad to the next level.