DENVER | Valeri Nichushkin scored in his return from injury, Mikko Rantanen had a goal and two assists and the Colorado Avalanche overcame the absence of star center Nathan MacKinnon to rout the Vancouver Canucks 7-1 on Thursday night.
Logan O’Connor and Devon Toews each added a goal and an assist, Gabriel Landeskog, Darren Helm and J.T. Compher also scored, and Darcy Kuemper made 21 saves. The Avalanche snapped a two-game skid with their highest-scoring game of the season.
“I think today we put the whole package together,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “It reminds me a little bit of the Tampa game. We’ve done it a couple times now, but the picture should be getting clearer and clearer for the players, that this is the way we have to play in order to have success. I think they’re buying into that, so getting a 7-1 win and playing the right way with the right habits is really important for them.”
Nils Hoglander scored after Vancouver fell behind 6-0, and Thatcher Demko allowed six goals on 26 shots before being pulled after two periods for the Canucks. They trailed 3-0 before getting their second shot on goal.
“We should be embarrassed,” captain Bo Horvat said. “We obviously didn’t come to play tonight. They outplayed us. It’s unacceptable and we can’t let it happen again.”
Bednar announced Wednesday that MacKinnon, a four-time All-Star, would miss about three weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Columbus. Compher centered the top line with Landeskog and Rantanen.
MacKinnon was sidelined just as the banged-up Avs welcomed back top-pair defenseman Cale Makar (two assists) and Nichuskin from upper-body injuries. Defenseman Sam Girard (two assists) also dressed after leaving practice early Wednesday.
Nichushkin, in his first game since Oct. 13, made an immediate impact. He knocked in Nazem Kadri’s rebound on the power play before tumbling into the goal himself at 3:18.
With the Canucks providing little resistance, Landeskog was open on the side of the net when he took a feed from Makar for his fifth goal to make it 2-0 at 7:34. Rantanen then scored at 11:10 after Bowen Byram stole the puck from Elias Pettersson.
Coach Travis Green called his timeout after it was 3-0, but Vancouver couldn’t recover as it started a three-game trip after a 2-4-1 homestand by being outshot 35-22.
“They look like a team that’s trying to find their game, a team that’s thinking about winning the Stanley Cup,” Green said. “We look like we had a bunch of guys that were a half-step behind. We weren’t close tonight.”
A day after placing Luke Schenn on injured reserve, call-up Jack Rathbone was on Vancouver’s third defensive pairing with Kyle Burroughs. And the Cancucks’ defense struggled.
Byram didn’t return after taking a blow to the head in the first period, but the Avs extended their lead to 4-0 as O’Connor knocked in a feed from Girard at 11:05 of the second.
“We’ve gotten down here lately a couple times and then we’re fighting back during the game. So having a good start off the bat is huge, especially coming back home, at altitude,” O’Connor said. “Those guys have had a couple more games as of late and we had a (four) day break.”
Helms scored a short-handed goal off a 2-on-1 rush at 16:32 of the second, and Toews made it 6-0 with 6 seconds left in the period.
Jaroslav Halak replaced Demko and stopped eight shots in the third period.
Canucks defenseman Tucker Poolman was given a match penalty midway through the third period after his stick to the face of Kiefer Sherwood.
LIGHT STRETCH OVER
It was Colorado’s first game in five days and Thursday concluded a stretch of only two games in 11 days. Both matchups were against Columbus. The teams were scheduled to play in Finland, and the NHL kept the schedule intact even after the Helsinki games were moved due to COVID-19.
Canucks: At Vegas on Saturday night.
Avalanche: Host San Jose on Saturday night.