GLENDALE, Ariz. — A heavy center-ice hit on Nathan MacKinnon and an ensuing brouhaha led to the Avalanche losing its best player for the rest of the game Saturday, but Colorado immediately responded with three special-team goals to break open a scoreless game at Gila River Arena.
Minus MacKinnon — who was given a game-misconduct after fighting Josh Archibald to complete an intense sequence at 8:53 of the second period — the Avs defeated the Arizona Coyotes 6-2 to improve to 5-2-1 since beginning the month 0-4.
On the heels of the big scrum that included a heavyweight fight between Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson and Coyotes forward Zac Rinaldo, the Avs scored a 4-on-4 goal (Carl Soderberg) and two 5-on-4 power-play tallies (J.T. Compher and Nail Yakupov) within five minutes to take a commanding 3-0 lead..
The power-play goals came during Rinaldo’s five-minute match penalty for punching Avs rookie defenseman Sam Girard, who skated up to Rinaldo after Rinaldo crushed MacKinnon with a seemingly clean hit in the neutral zone. Rinaldo dropped Girard with one punch, and MacKinnon and Johnson chased after Rinaldo in response. Johnson ended up fighting Rinaldo and was given a fighting major and roughing minor. MacKinnon fought Archibald and both were assessed matching majors and game misconducts.
“It got us going,” Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov said of the big fight. “We got emotions out there and it’s nice to see the boys stepping up for each other. I’m proud of our guys — EJ, G (Girard), Mac(Kinnon) — and it got us a win.”
MacKinnon and Johnson are two of the Avs’ top power-play specialists, but MacKinnon watched the power play go to work on television in the locker room and Johnson from the penalty box. In addition, offensive-minded defenseman Tyson Barrie suffered a hand injury on his third shift of the game and wasn’t available on the power play.
“Obviously, we don’t really want Mac and EJ doing that every night, but in that circumstance they took exception to (Rinaldo’s punch on Girard) and we’re coming together as a team. Those guys got to take a rest for a little bit,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said
After quickly scoring three special-teams goals, Colorado went ahead 4-0 on Matt Nieto’s goal at 14:06. Before the second-period buzzer ended the wild frame, Arizona scored a short-handed goal to get within three, and got another early goal in the third period. But Sven Andrighetto struck for the Avs midway through the period and it was again a three-goal lead.
Soderberg added his second goal at 13:31 to make it 6-2.
“That fight — the fights — gave us a spark,” Soderberg said. “That was big.”
The teams face each other in their next game — Wednesday in Denver, following the NHL’s three-day Christmas break.
Barrie, who blocked a shot and fracture a bone in his hand on his third shift Saturday, is doubtful for that game.