MacKinnon too valuable to be Avalanche policeman

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. PHOTO BY GARY A. VASQUEZ /USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. PHOTO BY GARY A. VASQUEZ /USA TODAY Sports

Don Brennan PostMedia

Nathan MacKinnon made a split-second decision on Friday that effectively ended two impressive individual streaks but could have been a lot worse — it could have cost the Colorado Avalanche their best shot at the Stanley Cup.

Naturally, his teammates loved it.

Say what?

Yeah, you read that right.

Nearing the midway mark of the third period in what became a 3-0 Colorado victory, San Jose Sharks winger Kevin Labanc pushed defenceman Sam Girard into the boards as they were racing for the puck on an icing call that was waved off.

Girard crashed hard, so MacKinnon jumped in and fought Labanc.

It doesn’t matter that Labanc isn’t regarded as a dirty player, that he hasn’t had more than 38 penalty minutes in any one of his five seasons, and that this would be his first NHL fight.

“Obviously, somebody has to answer the bell,” said Colorado defenceman Cale Makar. “Nate was there and he did that. I think it just goes to show the commitment that we have to each other on this team. Nate stepped in and got the job done for us.”

It was the sixth fight of MacKinnon’s career, which for a player of his stature, is about six too many.

If he breaks his hand on Labanc’s face and needs season-ending surgery, hey, at least he sure did show all future Colorado opponents that they will not get away with accidental or careless plays against his team.

At the expense of a championship, perhaps.

How dumb.

The latest odds to win the Cup, released Monday by BetOnline, look much the same as they did on April 1.

The Avalanche remains the favourite at 5/1, followed by the Golden Knights at 25/4 and, get ready, the Maple Leafs at 15/2.

Colorado’s chances drop significantly without MacKinnon, who is one of the three best players in the world.

And sure, he could be injured any number of ways, but why add one more to the list?

If it needs to be done in this situation, maybe the Avalanche tough-guy should take care of business, right?

Except that with 35 PIMs, MacKinnon is the team leader in that department too — unless you count the 40 in 12 games from part-time centre Liam O’Brien.

These are the risks with eliminating enforcers from the game – a guy like Labanc isn’t going to be as careful against you as he should be, or you have to rely on your skilled players to also do police work.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon didn’t play another shift after the altercation and his seven minute stay in the box.

That cost him a shot at extending his point-scoring streak, which was the longest in the NHL at 15 games (nine goals and 17 assists).

It also cost him a chance at extending the league’s longest shots on goal streak, which he had at 263 games. The all-time record of 360, held by Ray Bourque, will be safe for awhile.

Unless ….

Carrying the longest active shots streak heading into Monday was Auston Matthews, who had put at least one puck on goal for 97 consecutive games dating back to Nov. 13, 2019 against the Islanders.

The way Matthews is going these days, it looks like there’s no stopping him.

STOPS AND STARTS

Rick Vaive has had three of the only five 50-goal seasons in Leafs history, including a franchise-record 54 in 1981-82. I think I knew Vaive was born in Ottawa, but I didn’t realise that, a decade after his best season and with his career winding down despite the fact he was in his early 30s, he tried to catch on with one of the two new expansion teams — Ottawa and Tampa. In his book: “Catch 22: My Battles In Hockey and Life” with former Toronto Sun sports editor Scott Morrison, Vaive says his biggest mistake was not hiring a new agent after Bill Watters, who had been working for him, changed professions and became assistant general manager with the Leafs. Vaive put in eight or nine calls to Phil Esposito and Mel Bridgman, the GMs in Tampa and Ottawa, but didn’t hear back from either. He then asked his friend Dale Hawerchuk to contact John Ferguson, who was part of the Ottawa management team. Ferguson was apparently “shocked” Vaive would work for minimum wage and was “pissed off” that Bridgman still didn’t want him. “I appreciated Fergie trying,” said Vaive, who figured he could have scored “20 to 30 goals” that season for the first-year team. “Anyway, the franchise under Bridgman turned out to be a bit of tire fire.” Nope. Too easy.

BETWEEN PERIODS

Because of injuries, the Sabres used their sixth goalie of the season Monday against the Islanders, but this one brought along a very nice story. Michael Houser, a 28-year-old former London Knight, was playing his first NHL game after 210 in the East Coast league and 73 in the AHL. He was also playing for the first time since March 7, when he posted the second of back-to-back shutouts for the Cincinnati Cyclones. There’s more. Houser, who was the OHL’s most outstanding player in 2011-12, was born with bilateral club feet and had 14 surgeries before he was two. Doctors were concerned he would be unable to walk. “I always thought that I’ll just be patient, work hard and hopefully I get my chance,” Houser said before the game. “I’ve certainly gotten it tonight.” … Players from both the Ducks and Kings lined in single file to congratulate Ryan Miller after Saturday’s game, likely his last. It was a tremendous sign of respect for the 40-year-old goalie.

BACK TO THE POINT

Interesting fact: Leading the NHL in penalty minutes heading into Monday’s action was Max Domi, with 73. His father Tie Domi, who is third-highest on the NHL’s all-time PIMs list with 3,315, only led the league in one of his 15 seasons. That was in 1993-94, when he had 347 with the Winnipeg Jets … Heading into play Monday, Brady Tkachuk (in just his third NHL season)was tied for the league lead in shots (201, with Matthews), second in hits (222) behind Radko Gudas (229), the league leader in fights (seven), fourth in penalty minutes (63), and tied for 78th in scoring with his brother Matthew and a half-dozen other players. Just an incredibly well-rounded player.

PARTING SHOT

Nice to see Tim Stuetzle was in the line up Monday. After the way he snapped his head and threw a look of blame at teammate Erik Brannstrom following Montreal’s OT goal Saturday, there had to be concern about a possible upper body (neck) injury.