Colorado Avalanche: Nine Line and Matt Duchene

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Colorado Avalanche forward, Matt Duchene, scored again in Thursday night’s game against the New York Rangers, and he now has 13 goals in the past 15 games, plus 8 assists to give him 21 points in that span.

Matt Duchene is starting off December on the right skates as well, as he has 2 goals in 2 games to start the month. Aside from Patrick Kane, Matt Duchene is the hottest player in the league right now, and it’s really too bad that October was such a dismal month for Dutchy.

Anyway, Dutchy was the center of trade rumors only a few weeks back, but since his torrid scoring pace, the rumors have fizzled, becoming just an after thought of the production.

However, without the inception of this “Nine Line” would Dutchy still be in an Avalanche uniform? How necessary has the influx of capable linemates been to Duchene’s production?

To put it in perspective folks. Nathan MacKinnon has been consistenly producing all year (different linemates just like Dutchy), with 24 points on the season.

Matt Duchene had 2 points in the first 10 games, when MacK had 10 points in the first 10. Yet, Matt Duchene now has 24 points, just like MacKinnon, and these points can’t be attributed to anything other than the new linemates that Duchene has.

Hopefully, Matt Duchene will stay in a Colorado Avalanche uniform, but I’m not here to talk about whether or not he’ll stay in burgundy and blue. I just want to talk about how awesome Matt Duchene is, and how vital this move to the wing was for him and Nathan MacKinnon.

But wait, was it really that good of a move? You tell me because I’m not saying that this line should be broken up; in fact, that would irreparable, but a little movement amongst the positions of MacK and Dutchy would provide for even more production.

The Nine Line

Colorado Avalanche fans have been calling for this line combination ever since MacK hit the league on fire, but it never felt like this line would happen, it was more of an arcade dream than a reality.

Well here we are, essentially a month into the experiment, and Patrick Roy has no intentions of breaking this line up. It was difficult to justify stacking this sort of skill on one line when Roy did, but with the return of John Mitchell and Alex Tanguay, it makes a lot more sense.

Most fans would have probably put Dutchy at center, rather than MacK, but neither one is really dominating the minutes at center. However, both take a similar amount of face-offs, but MacKinnon is taking the bulk, and is losing more than he wins, while Dutchy continues to post a tremendous face-off percentage of 55.8%.

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It doesn’t make any sense to switch the positioning of MacKinnon and Duchene when they are playing the puck, but it certainly makes more sense to give Dutch the bulk of the draws moving forward.

Plus, MacK knows how to play the wing, and the productiveness of this line might see even more production if they were winning more face-offs, something Dutchy would provide.

Defensive Responsibilities of the “Nine Line”

There’s all this discourse concerning the necessity of a defensively sound center on a team. Well, the Colorado Avalanche lost their only two centers who could be considered such in the past two summers when Ryan O’Reilly went to Buffalo, and Paul Stastny went to St. Louis. Unfortunately, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon provide little, to any defensive upside.

Nathan MacKinnon has -3 turnover differential, while Dutchy is a bit better with +6, yet neither is suited to a two-way game, which is why it makes sense to throw them on a line with Gabe Landeskog, who will win a Selke Trophy in the near future.

I think the line combination is great, I just think that MacK would be better suited to the wing, and Dutch better suited to center. As much as I want MacK at center, I still don’t think he’s ready for it, and his face-off percentage is starting to show that.

Gabe Landeskog; The Glue for Production

Let’s be honest, Gabe Landeskog is an amazing forward along the lines of Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, and Jonathan Toews, but he’s a winger when the rest are centers. It’s contradictory for a winger to be so pivotal to the the defensive game of the forwards, but Landeskog transcends this controversy.

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Whenever I watch this line in action, I am immediately drawn to the effort that Gabe Landeskog puts in on every shift to ensure that his team maintains possession of the puck, and is presented with a good scoring chance.

Surely, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene can make any player better, but with Gabe Landeskog they don’t have to, he makes them better as far as I am concerned. Both Dutchy and MacK are gritty and tenacious, with a force of speed rarely encountered in the NHL. But, Landeskog provides the pressure and cohesiveness that ultimately makes this line tick so efficiently.

Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon

Both of these players enlist a very similar style to their play, which is why — as I mentioned above — Gabe Landeskog is so pivotal to their success.

Both players are extremely fast, and Duchene found one of the worst seasons of his career centering Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay for most of last year because they couldn’t hang with his speed. Likewise, Nathan MacKinnon only started finding his groove when paired with O’Reilly and Landeskog, before he was injured and his season cut short.

They both need speed, and both seek a spot behind the net for a successful operation. Thus, they are suited to one another, but they’re both centers so there is an inevitable clash that will ensue when they play a line together.

However, they’ve been successful because they both take draws in situations that suit their play style and strengths. Nonetheless, Duchene has been more successful at draws this season, and if he were taking more of them in games, then the Avalanche would be winning more draws. and providing their offensive players with a greater chance of scoring.

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So, I posit that MacK gets relegated to the wing again because his face-off percentage is simply not good enough for first line duties.

Perhaps his percentage is just a reflection of the fact that he’s been taking less draws, and is less focused on them because of it. But, even if that were the case, it’s obvious that management should go with the player that is winning 56% of his draws because that is an incredible number.

Colorado Avalanche Conclusion

I love playing the Devil’s heed because it’s always this smack and slither of the most optimistic facets of life. I love it when people are happy, but I revel in cynicism, and this line is the most happy existence of Colorado Avalanche hockey that fans have come across in recent months, hence my joy in the dismantle.

With that being said, this article is not predicated on the existence of my cynicism, but rather on the fact that I would love to see something so efficiently operated, re-created, and even more appropriately operated to the cause.

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“The Nine Line” has been slowing of late — besides Dutchy — and a move of MacK to right wing might facilitate a necessary change in production.

MacK slows down while Dutchy and Landy gain momentum. That has to change, and the possible integration of a more balanced lineup, with the return of Tangs and Mitchy, might facilitate this change.

The Colorado Avalanche play the Minnesota Mild tonight, and I don’t care how many Wild fans read this, there was a reason I didn’t do a preview. With a preview, I’m obliged to recognize the other team in some nature, to let them join along in the festivities to some degree. I refuse…

So here we go Avs fans, tonight is a big night for our team, and hopefully the “Nine Line” will show with tenacious fashion and deconstruct the Mild from becoming Wild.

Let us know what you think! Opinions are like firecrackers, the more you throw, the more people transcend the complacency of a hard chair, and the utter disappointment of it all. So join along in the revel because you can’t escape love and the way it transcends. My love always reaches hockey folks. As always, your opinion is noted, and we like the uncertainty of the dig, so join along and become a part of it all!