When Matt Duchene went down and left Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks with an apparent knee injury, Avs fans feared the worst. On Monday, our fears were put at ease a bit as the team announced that Duchene will miss four weeks with a knee injury. The “worst” would’ve been a torn ligament that put him out until next season. When you look at it like that, four weeks isn’t so bad. That timeline puts him out of the first round of the playoffs, although if things get to a game seven and Duchene feels he can contribute, good luck keeping him off the ice.
While this season has been a special one for the Avs, the injuries to the top six forwards have dampened things a little bit. Just imagine if the Avs could’ve gotten more out of Alex Tanguay, who only played 16 games and the Avs only lost once with him in the lineup.
When someone has gone down for the Avs, another player has always stepped up. That’s easier said than done, and in the case of Duchene, it’s going to be even tougher to replace his production.
Duchene leads the team in points with 70 and assists with 47. That’s tough enough to replace, but then you have to take into account his chemistry with Ryan O’Reilly, who leads the team with 26 goals. The two have been on the top line together since training camp and have produced magic on the ice.
Of O’Reilly’s 26 goals, Duchene has drawn an assist on 15 of them. Those are just numbers that show up in the boxscore. They don’t take into account the number of chances the two have created, the number of hardworking offensive shifts they’ve had, or their defensive communication. That can’t be replaced overnight.
Nathan MacKinnon will be the man called upon to replace Duchene, as Patrick Roy has already stated that the rookie will be on the top line with Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. That means the second line will likely be Paul Stastny, Gabe Landeskog, and John Mitchell for the rest of the regular season.
MacKinnon has proven to be a special player this year, and while he’s not as mature as Duchene is on the ice, the two play a similar style so Roy’s decision here makes sense. MacKinnon might not have the same chemistry that Duchene and O’Reilly have, but MacKinnon is talented enough to create chances and find the open player.
The real pressure might be on Landeskog and Stastny though as teams will now gear their top defense towards their line instead of Duchene’s. Those two have played great hockey as of late but they might have to take it up to another level.
The Avs will get P.A. Parenteau back to start the playoffs and his addition will be huge, not for the second line, but for the third line. With Duchene out, Marc Andre Cliche will center the third line. While he’s good as what he does, having a third line of Cody McLeod, Max Talbot, and John Mitchell makes that line much more dangerous offensively. And in the playoffs, a lot of times it’s the role players that are the heros.
It won’t be easy to win without the team’s best forward, but what has come easy for the Avalanche this year?