Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene and Faceoffs


Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene doesn’t seem to be the main faceoff player for the team. Find out about his faceoff strengths.

Time was the Colorado Avalanche’s one-two punch at center was supposed to be Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. Of course, time was you could properly call Matt Duchene a center. Now it seems more natural to just call him a forward.

At the beginning of the season, Duchene was having a terrible time scoring. Head coach Patrick Roy tried numerous tactics. One of those tactics was to switch Matt to wing.

Now, it wasn’t so much about preventing Duchene from taking faceoffs. Rather, centers have two-way duties. Coach Roy wanted Matt to focus mostly on his offensive duties.

Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon Faceoff Stats

Early in the season, it wasn’t even a guarantee that Nathan MacKinnon was going to play much center — he spent large parts of his first two NHL seasons on wing himself while he developed his own two-way play. However, MacKinnon has become the Colorado Avalanche’s man faceoff player.

According to, this season MacKinnon has already taken over 200 more faceoffs than Duchene. This includes every kind of faceoff, from offensive zone (174) to faceoffs when the score is close (339).

Strangely, though, Matt Duchene leads in faceoffs won across the board, from overall (56.1%) to faceoffs in the offensive zone (71.2%) to faceoffs when the score is close (56%).

Even more strangely, lately Duchene seems to only take offensive zone faceoffs. In the game against the San Jose Sharks, he took only three, all in the O zone. (He won two for a win percentage of 67%). In the game against the Arizona Coyotes, he took only two faceoffs, both in the offensive zone, and both wins.

I really don’t know what’s up with Matt Duchene not taking faceoffs lately. I don’t know if it’s coming from coach Roy or if he’s deferring the act himself. I think it’s interesting, though, that he’s the go-to faceoff player for the offensive zone.

Faceoff Strategy

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of strategy that goes into winning a faceoff. Even if you’ve never played hockey, the basic strategies should be pretty clear just from watching them:

  • Stance low and wide for balance
  • Legs primes for explosive speed
  • Upper body torqued for power
  • Eyes on the referee’s hands

Players also choke up on the stick and use a double backhand grip for more leverage. Here’s Matt Duchene putting all those strategies into practice:

Dec 9, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) during a face-off against Nashville Predators center

Mike Ribeiro

(63) during the second period at the at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Some other tactics also relate to what the center does with the puck once he wins it. The classic is getting the puck back to a defenseman, who tries to get a shot on net. In this scenario, the forwards are supposed to tie up the opposition.

Another option, suitable only for the offensive zone, is to push the puck forward and try to get an immediate shot on net. This is too risky for the defensive zone because there possession is key.

The third main option is to forgo the puck and go for the opponent’s stick, allowing the winger to swoop in and take the puck.

Which tactic a center uses not only depends on the zone, but also on his opponent’s proclivities. For example, if the opposing center likes to go for straight faceoff wins, a smart tactic might be to tie up his stick.

Now, winning a faceoff is probably something players learn at a young age. However, I’m guessing it’s still a skill centers need to practice on a regular basis. I imagine practice simply looks like repeating faceoffs over and over again as a drill.

More About Matt Duchene:

Patrick Roy has been back to his habit of changing up line combinations, and the popular nine-line is no more. At least for the moment. In the game against the Sharks Duchene was skating with Andreas Martinsen and John Mitchell. Mitchell took the lion’s share of faceoffs — 15 — and won 40% of the time.

Duchene seems to have a real skill at winning faceoffs, especially in the offensive zone. Considering the Colorado Avalanche is currently 22nd in the NHL for winning faceoffs with a 48.7 win percentage… well, I’d like to see Matt and his winning ways in that faceoff circle more often.