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.
In summary, the problem with Duchene is not singular and is not entirely his fault. Without his characteristic quickness, he is not creating enough space, and when he does, neither of his linemates is consistently putting themselves in the right spot to capitalise. Additionally, neither of his linemates is creating any space for him either, so he is not finding himself in any position to succeed at his job (i.e. score). His line needs more chemistry. And more size. Or something to disrupt the defence.
These are my observations. And they come with the caveat that I’m not an expert. All I did was watch the replays.