This article originally appeared on Mile High Hockey.
I believe that anyone who says Matt Duchene has been a non-factor in the last number of games, including the one last night against the Flames, must not be watching. Because, frankly, I am noticing him just as much, if not more than Ryan O'Reilly (whose toughness after being whacked in the face is remarkable, by the way).
While his offensive game seems to have abandoned him, he has not stopped working to improve elsewhere, specifically on the defensive end. Against the Flames, Duchene had one excellent goal-saving defensive play in front of the net worthy of mention. If you check the replay, you will see Semyon Varlamov leave a pretty, little rebound for a Calgary player behind the net, who then wisely shoots it to a teammate streaking in front of the net (by which I mean he was barrelling down on Varlamov, not exposing himself to his teammate, thus incurring his wrath). Save for Duchene, there was no one there to help Varly, who otherwise would have had to make a butt-clenching save or be the recipient of a predictable goal (much like Calgary’s lone goal). What does Dutchy do? Calmly collects the puck, turns to an empty expanse of ice, and clears it perfectly. Flames have to regroup in the neutral zone, and the Avs are given the chance to breathe after a momentary throttling by their opponent.
Offensively, three things are clear:
- Duchene does not have his legs, and may not have them for the rest
of the season. (I don’t know who stole them, but my eyes keep glancing
at Matt Hunwick.)
He has none of the quick burst he usually shows, and that lack of speed
isn't forcing defencemen to give him that little bit of space he would
normally exploit. There are many times that I see him receive the puck
with the defender on his back foot, and hoping for him to just
turn on the afterburners and leave him in the dust, but he isn’t doing
that. We know he is still recovering from those knee and ankle
injuries, which may (nay, must) be preventing him from making his first,
quick push. Until he does recover, he may have to be content with
being a mere mortal (yes, I would say that when Mighty Matt is deking Dennis Seidenberg out of his jock strap, he is godly), and we will have to watch on, powerless to change anything.
At least he is still working hard to create scoring chances, however.
- There is little chemistry on his line. Maybe it's because his
linemates are still figuring out that he's hurting, but there have been
multiple plays that collapsed because it wouldn't develop properly. For
example, on one play, Duchene made a pass to Milan Hejduk, who dropped it back to Peter Mueller, who then also dropped it back to Duchene, who then went, "What the fuck am I supposed to do with it, now?"
In soccer, this would be the moment when a defender panics when he sees an opponent nearing him and passes back to the goalie, who in turn sees the pressure bearing down on him and goes, "Oh, shit!" He has been put in a bad spot by his teammate. Maybe the normal Duchene would have used that sliver of space to do something, but without his quickness, he was just put in a bad position. That line has shown sparks, it's just not yet good enough. When will it be good enough?
- I don't know who, but someone is out of position. And no one is in
front of the net. This may be a product of the fact that sometimes
Duchene and Mueller appear to be switching positions on a rush (someone
also mentioned Duchene doing this with Olver), and they're just
confused. When they're cycling the puck down low, neither Duchene nor
Mueller seem to be finding space or trusting the other man to fend off
the defender and get the puck to him. Multiple times, both of them
would be behind the net, trying to figure out who is supposed to go
where, compressing the D instead of stretching it, while Duke would be
in the slot waiting for a pass that would never come. I understand what
Duke is doing, but who on that line can effectively screen the goalie?
It's basically Dutchy and the Two Snipers. Which could
theoretically work, were they creating space. But without it, they're
not going to produce much. This isn't the sort of line that battles in
the corner and gets dirty behind the net.
Both Mueller and Duchene need to be more cognizant out there, but until they either simplify the play or the old, automatic-space-creating-machine, Duchene returns, I think it's impossible to make the most of the overwhelming talent on that line.
These are my observations. And they come with the caveat that I’m not an expert. All I did was watch the replays.