Nathan MacKinnon didn’t think he deserved to play in the NHL All-Star Game last season. The Avalanche were the worst team in the league, but with at least one player from each club required to be on the rosters, he was Colorado’s representative.
This year, his selection is much different. He’s in the top five in the NHL in scoring and a catalyst in the Avalanche’s revival. He thinks he belongs among the best later this month.
“I went last year and I didn’t really feel like I deserved to go,” he told HockeyBuzz.com. “I know they have to take someone from each team, so that’s why I went.
“This year, I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I earned an All-Star selection, along with lots of other guys on this team that I think deserved a chance as well. I’m obviously very honored and excited to represent the Avs.”
MacKinnon may be leading the Avalanche to more than an All-Star appearance. Colorado is flying high, enjoying its first six-game winning streak in nearly four years and making a playoff push heading into Monday’s matinee against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center.
MacKinnon had a goal in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars, which gave Colorado 23 wins and 48 points — both eclipsing last season’s totals halfway through the season.
Moreover, the six-game winning streak has come against teams in playoff position, and the Avalanche have played fewer games than the teams they are chasing in the wild card. Dallas — one point ahead — has played two more games than Colorado.
“We’re playing good hockey right now,” Alexander Kerfoot told The Denver Post after scoring a goal Saturday. “We’ve got confidence in our group and we’re doing the little things right and finding ways to win, which is what good teams do.”
But the Avalanche (23-16-3) can’t rest on what they’ve done for the past few weeks. They play a team that is fighting for a playoff position and is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games.
The Ducks (20-15-9) have 49 points and are tied with the Avalanche, but they have played two more games.
Anaheim got a boost for Saturday’s 4-2 win over Los Angeles with the return of third-line forward Ondrej Kase. He had three points against the Kings and gives the Ducks their full complement of forwards starting the second half of the season.
Kase, who returned Saturday from a battle with the flu, has 11 goals and seven assists already after only having five goals and 10 assists all of last year.
“Some of it is opportunity,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf told the Los Angeles Times of Kase’s improved play. “I think he’s earned some more ice time, earned some spots that he can play. And the other part of it is that he’s working.
“If you watch him every night, he’s working hard, doing the right things, and he’s getting some results now.”
The Ducks may need everyone to stop the resurgent Avalanche. Colorado is winning despite top goaltender Semyon Varlamov being sidelined with a groin injury that will keep him out until the All-Star break or longer.
Jonathan Bernier has filled in admirably, and he received the NHL’s second star after winning all three games and allowing just three goals on 54 shots.
He will be in net Monday, and his team has confidence in him.
“He’s earned the opportunity,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com. “He’s been patient waiting for his starts, and now he’s got a chance to play some games, and we’re going to ride him a little bit.”