The Colorado Avalanche are regaining their best player ahead of Tuesday's game against the Washington Capitals. Center Nathan MacKinnon, a two-time NHL All-Star and three-time MVP finalist, will make his season debut for the Avs in Washington after a positive COVID-19 test kept him out the first two games.
MacKinnon's return comes at the exact right time for Colorado. The Avs began the season with Devon Toews and Pavel Francouz on injured reserve. Then over the first week, they lost captain Gabriel Landeskog to a two-game suspension while Valeri Nichuskin and Stefan Matteau sustained significant injuries. Defenseman Jack Johnson scored a goal in the season opener before landing on the COVID protocol list, though he's slated for a Tuesday return along with MacKinnon.
Against Washington, MacKinnon will start alongside former Capital Andre Burakovsky and fellow All-Star Mikko Rantanen. Johnson will play next to Ryan Murray.
MacKinnon, 26, flew into D.C. on Monday to rejoin his team after receiving two negative COVID-19 tests. The Avs are starting a three-game East Coast trip with Washington on Tuesday, followed by the Florida Panthers on Thursday and Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Despite the distance from home, MacKinnon is glad to be back on the ice.
"I'm pumped to play," said MacKinnon, who's vaccinated. "I didn't think I'd even get two negatives. I thought I'd have to wait the 10 days and miss the first two games of the road trip and probably the third one, too."
MacKinnon joins the 1-1 Avs ahead of a daunting road trip. The Avs topped the Chicago Blackhawks in last week's season opener but fell to the St. Louis Blues three days later, largely because they were down six players that game.
Reinforcements are arriving in MacKinnon and Johnson, much to the delight of Colorado coach Jared Bednar.
"I would say it's a pleasant surprise because I wasn't expecting him (to play) tonight," Bednar said.