Lynchpin of our playoff hopes and dreams (and my fantasy team), Matt Duchene got the proverbial monkey off his back Saturday night. He scored his first goal since December 19th. Just check out what he did after he scored what would be the eventual game-winner:
So yeah, he knew he'd been snake-bit of late. "Of late" is code for a span of 13 games. Saturday night's goal brings his total this year to 17 with 24 helpers in 45 games. Those 41 points lead the team. That's important. Why? He's still, even after the drought through most of the last month, the most productive player on the team. When he wasn't scoring goals, he still contributed with 9 assists.
More importantly, he didn't stop. What I mean is he was still Matt Duchene in that time-span. The LA game that started the slump saw him with no shots on goal, but 2 assists. Then his shot totals went like this: 1, 1, 4, 5, 4, 2, 2, 7!, 4, 3, 3, 5, and one sweet shot last night. That's...hold on...carry the one...42 shots over 14 games or an even 3 shots per game. And my recollection is that those weren't selfish shots, it was still Duchene making the plays with his legs and skill and getting the looks that were generated. He was getting plenty of near-misses and iron, including one off the cross-bar against the Predators. Then he sunk that redunkulous angle rebound shot past Devon Dubnyk and you could see the weight come off his shoulders a little.
Others have commented that his focus has been honed to a razor's edge this year and there doesn't seem to be as much joy to his game. I'd agree with that and you can see that the smiles aren't as easy and the celebrations are more intense and less exuberant. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not as this has been his best year as a pro. Maybe he's taken another step in his maturation and while likely feeling some additional pressure as the main cog on the team, perhaps he has also welcomed the role with increased discipline and expectations for himself. Perhaps the Olympics have fed into that as well. Nobody knows but Duchene and his mirror.
I don't know about you, but I want those guys on my team. I want the guy that wants the puck. Not because he thinks he's the best player on the team, but because he KNOWS he can be the difference-maker in critical situations. I'm all for team play, and Duchene is a consummate team-player, but when the chips are down, backs are against the wall, cows are coming home, and the game is on the line, I want #9 to get to work. And that work is carrying the team into the playoffs. So far, he's doing just that.