Colorado Avalanche Season: Duchene’s Historic November

Nov 3, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) 2nd star of the game and mascot Bernie following the win over the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Flames 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) 2nd star of the game and mascot Bernie following the win over the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Flames 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche regressed during the 2015-16 season. This second season post examines how Matt Duchene’s historic November made the playoffs seem possible.

The belly-flop that ended the Colorado Avalanche season disappointed the fans and has had pundits looking for answers. I’m in both boats. I expected so much more, and I’d like to know why it all went so horribly wrong. So, I’m putting the 2015-16 season through an autopsy via a series of posts.

In the first post of the series, I examined how the slow start doomed the Colorado Avalanche:

Related Story: Doom of a Slow Start

Now, with the way the season both began and ended, we may have forgotten what gave us hope to begin with. After all, we wouldn’t have been so disappointed with how the Avs failed to make the playoffs if they’d been out of the race the whole time.

In fact, November marked a huge turning point for the team. The catalyst was Matt Duchene’s historic November — and the coach-driven intervention that led to it.

Matt Duchene and Coach Roy

The whole Colorado Avalanche team had a disastrously slow start to the season. However, center Matt Duchene seemed to exemplify the horror of that start. He scored just one goal and earned just one assist in 11 games — all of October and leading into November.

Duchene explained to at the time:

"“I was struggling and after coming off a bad game in which I was robbed (by the goaltender) during my first shift earlier this season, I kind of shut down. I didn’t play great the rest of the game and was pretty down.”"

I’m not sure exactly which save that was, but the one that Duchene was talking about in late October was this one by Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes:

Duchene stated that save game him nightmares — and all the media at the time was talking about how it could end up being the save of the year.

Now, of course, hockey is a team sport. However, Duchene is a core player on the team — currently perhaps the core player among the forwards. So his lack of production in the early months was seen as damning.

Head coach Patrick Roy wasn’t completely critical of Matt Duchene at the time. He didn’t call Duchene out quite as thoroughly as he did at the end of the season. However, his pressers started to include rumblings of discontent, times when he would mention disappointment in Duchene specifically even though singling out players hadn’t been his habit.

That discontent along with Duchene’s play created a firestorm of trade rumors.

However, unbeknown to us at the time, coach Roy actually took Duchene aside and showed him video of his own goals from previous seasons. Roy emphasized the fact that Duchene habitually scored by driving the net or hanging around the slot area.

Duchene said of his intervention:

"“[Roy] pulled me aside and we watched video; he’s very perceptive in terms of the visual sense, and he helped me return to that foundation to what makes me go and what makes me, me.”"

Matt Duchene put in the work, and it paid off.

Duchene’s Historic November

In addition to working with Matt Duchene to show him how he habitually scored, coach Roy also made a surprising move. Duchene has traditionally played his natural position, center, even when that meant other talented players such as Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon had to move to wing to skate on his line. Well, coach Roy moved Duchene to wing.

Centermen have a lot of defensive responsibilities. While it’s true Duchene is known for not being great on defense, the move wasn’t to punish him for that lack. Instead, coach Roy switched Duchene so he could focus on his real gift — scoring goals. Wingmen, as their name suggests, have more leeway to soar, and Matt Duchene can fly.

And fly he did.

In 14 games through November Matt Duchene scored 11 goals and earned 20 points. Those numbers were good enough to make history.

Duchene was the first Avalanche player to score 11 or more goals in a calendar month since Milan Hejduk did it in February of 2003, so first in 12 years. He also broke Claude Lemieux’s record for scoring goals in November — Lemieux scored 10.

The pace of scoring was frenetic. He earned at least a point in 11 of 14 games. He also had six multi-point games, including three three-point nights.

Those numbers were good enough to earn Duchene third star of the month for the entire NHL.


I’d like to say Duchene’s improved performance completely elevated the Colorado Avalanche. However, as I noted before, hockey is a team game. While Duchene thrived, other players — such as Semyon Varlamov (.891 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average) and the Avs veterans, Jarome Iginla (eight points) and Alex Tanguay (no points) — still struggled.

Nonetheless, Duchene’s performance did help Colorado go 6-8-0 in November. No, that’s not great, but Colorado had gone 3-6-1 in October, making November a trend in the right direction.

In other words, Duchene showed himself to be a core player who could step up when his team needed him. This is why I don’t think he’s on the trade block. Nathan MacKinnon may have the potential to out-score Matt Duchene, but he hasn’t done so yet — the Colorado Avalanche need Duchene’s magical scoring touch.

Next: What is a Stanley Cup Attitude?

After that historic November, the Colorado Avalanche went on a tear that lasted until the All Star Break. It looked like they legitimately had a chance to make the playoffs. That’ll be the topic for our next Avs Season post.