DENVER | Mikko Rantanen changed positions, but not his game. He’s still piling up the goals and assists.
Rantanen had a hat trick and an assist, Bo Byram scored in his return to the lineup, and the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Saturday night.
It was Rantanen’s first hat trick of the season and the third of his career. It came in his eighth game playing center in place of the injured Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon hasn’t played since Nov. 6 due to a lower-body injury, but Colorado keeps humming. The Avalanche are 7-0-1 without their best player, in part because Rantanen has taken on a bigger role.
“You want the puck on your best player’s stick as much as possible, and that’s what Mikko is,” coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s an elite player.”
Cale Makar had three assists, but his goal-scoring streak ended at five games. He has seven goals and five assists in the last six games. Jonas Johansson had 26 saves for Colorado.
The Avalanche put pressure on Nashville goalie David Rittich from the outset, holding a 14-4 advantage in shots and a 2-0 lead after the first period.
“We started pretty poorly. I think 5-on-5 we got in the game and we were playing okay,” Predators center Mikael Granlund said. “They got those power-play goals, so it was tough. Tough thing to be 2-0 behind but we couldn’t get back in the game the way we wanted.”
Rantanen gave Colorado a 2-0 lead with a pair of power-play goals in the first. He completed the hat trick with his 10th goal of the season at 15:12 of the third period.
Even with his 13 points in eight games, Rantanen knows getting MacKinnon back — possibly Wednesday in Toronto — will help.
“It’s obviously nice to have him back. He’s one of the best players in the world,” Rantanen said. “To get one of the best players back to your team is only going to help us.”
Luke Kunn got the Predators within 2-1 when he tipped a shot from Eeli Tolvanen at 4:44 of the second, but Byram’s redirection of Landeskog’s pass restored the two-goal lead at 6:14 of the second.
Byram, a 20-year-old rookie defenseman, missed the last six games after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head against Vancouver on Nov. 11.
“We had some responses too, but when they had their looks they got some good goals,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “We didn’t find a way to get key goals at key times. Special teams were a big difference.”
Valeri Nichushkin scored his fifth of the season at 6:42 of the third period for Colorado.
Rittich finished with 29 saves.
Former Avalanche player Matt Duchene scored his 12th goal of the season at 16:28 of the third. Tyson Jost completed the scoring for Colorado with his second of the season at 18:55.
BROTHERS AT ARMS
Gabriel Landeskog and Mattias Ekholm have been teammates for Team Sweden, but that was put aside Saturday night. Ekholm and Landeskog went at it late in the second period after Landeskog drove the net and slid into Rittich. Ekholm grabbed him and dragged him away from the net and then grabbed Rantanen’s head gear. A scrum developed and Landeskog went after Ekholm, landing punches as Ekholm went down to the ice.
“They were trying to extend that and he was yanking on Mikko’s helmet. Gabe took exception to that,” Bednar said. “I like our guys sticking together in that. ”
Landeskog, who had two assists in the win, got a 10-minute misconduct, a fighting major and two instigator penalties while Ekholm received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
NOTES: Colorado D Ryan Murray suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. … Granlund had an assist to reach 400 points for his career. … The Avalanche have scored 39 goals in their last seven home games and have gone 6-0-1 in those games.
Predators: Host Columbus on Tuesday night.
Avalanche: Begin a five-game trip in Toronto on Wednesday night.