NHL Buzz: MacKinnon could return for Avalanche on Saturday

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Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon could return for the Avalanche against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (7 pm ET; SN, ALT, ESPN+, SN NOW).

The center has missed the past 11 games with an upper-body injury since leaving a 5-3 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 5.

“He’s close too. Really close,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Friday. “When he tells me he’s ready to go, he’ll play. Until then, we’re on hold.”

MacKinnon hasn’t progressed from wearing a non-contact jersey during his recent practices, but Bednar said the lack of change has merely been precautionary.

“Even though he has a red (jersey) on, it’s just because we don’t want him to get dinged up in practice. But his next step will be telling us he’s ready to play,” Bednar said. “In ‘Nate’s’ case, he’s been skating. Now, that’s his third practice with the team. He’s basically doing everything.”

MacKinnon had 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists) in 23 games and was on pace for his first 100-point season at the time of the injury. His initial timeline to return was four weeks.

Forward Darren Helm is also getting closer to returning. He has not played this season because of a hip injury.

“[He’s] making progress, pushing it to the next level. Hopefully nearing a return to play, but I don’t have a timeline,” Bednar said. “It’s player driven. Obviously, our medical staff has some say, but he’s got to feel well enough to be able to participate in all the drills and take the hitting, and then if he is then he’ll start doing that. And when he says he’s ready to play, then he’s ready to play.”

Colorado is also without forwards Gabriel Landeskog (knee), Valery Nichushkin (ankle), and Martin Kaut (upper body), defensemen Bowen Byram (lower body) and Josh Manson (lower body), and goalie Pavel Francouz (lower body). — Ryan Boulding

Pittsburgh Penguins

Kris Letang is day to day with a lower-body injury and did not play against the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

The defenseman did not practice Thursday and was being evaluated.

“We always feel for guys when they get banged up,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday. “Nobody wants to go through those experiences. … It’s not a nice game. People get hurt. It’s just the reality of the sport that we play. We’ll take each day as it comes, but we’re hopeful that ‘Tanger’ will respond the right way, in a favorable way, for us.”

Letang missed five games after having a stroke, the second of his NHL career, on Nov. 28. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in eight games since returning Dec. 10.

Ty Smith, recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, made his Penguins debut. He was acquired in a trade with the Devils on July 16 for defenseman John Marino.

Letang, who has 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 29 games this season, led all skaters with 27:01 of ice time Wednesday, when the Penguins (19-10-6) allowed the Detroit Red Wings to come back from down four goals to win 5-4 in overtime. He also led all skaters with 25:48 of ice time in a 5-1 loss at the New York Islanders on Tuesday. — Wes Crosby

New York Islanders

Forwards Oliver Wahlstrom and Simon Holmstrom were each placed on injured reserve Friday.

Wahlstrom sustained a lower-body injury against the Penguins on Tuesday and did not play in a 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. He has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 35 games this season.

Holmstrom has missed two games since sustaining a lower-body injury against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 23. He has one goal and one assist in 14 games this season.

The Islanders visit the Seattle Kraken on Sunday (8 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, SN NOW).

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