It has been 23 games since Matt Duchene has registered an even-strength goal. That's 28% of an NHL season and 40% of the games played so far. During this time, he's only had a single power play tally. It came 10 games ago.
What is going on?
It's not like he hasn't been trying to score. Since his empty netter on December 21st against the Oilers, only Nathan MacKinnon has equaled his 70 shots on goal. They're both averaging just a hair over 3 SOG per game, even though MacKinnon has 13 more tallies during this time. In fact, only 5 other Avs are even averaging over 2 SOG a game as of late: Jamie McGinn (2.30) with 9 goals in that time, Gabriel Landeskog (2.26) with 8 goals, Paul Stastny (2.21) with 6, Ryan O`Reilly (2.05) with 10, and Erik Johnson (2.04) with 3.
Now, one might argue that Duchene's 18:47 average TOI over that span might have inflated his totals. But when one factors in only even strength and power play time, on average, Duchene records a shot every 6 minutes he's on the ice. Only MacKinnon averages faster at 5:25 between shots. It takes McGinn 7 minutes, Stastny 7:40, Landeskog 7:50, and O'Reilly 8:45 to register a shot.
There's plenty of other shots at net that aren't even included in those numbers either. Over the 23 game period, Duchene has had 21 shots blocked and 26 go wide, adding an extra 47 to his total. Only Landeskog has had more wayward attempts at 48. If one factors in these shots at net, Duchene has fired off 117 in 23 games, Landeskog 100 in 23, MacKinnon 99 in 23, McGinn 97 in 23, O'Reilly 72 in 21, and Stastny 63 in 19.
In essence, Duchene is doing everything he can to score. It's just not going in. His shooting percentage is a dreary 1.4% over this time, and his season average has dropped to 9.8%, the lowest it's ever been in his career.
He's only hit a rough patch like this once before. During his 3rd season (2011-12), he had 1 goal in a 21 game period near the end of the year. However, 3 games in, he twisted his knee and was out of the lineup for a month and a half. 9 games after that, he severely sprained his ankle and missed 8 more days. He finished out the season playing hurt, and only broke the cold snap with a goal on the last game of the year.
Matt Duchene, Playmaker
Besides injuries, there's also another notable difference between his two goal slumps. During the '11-12 one, Duchene had 3 assists. During the current one, he's posted a team-high 16.
Instead of trying to do everything himself - his biggest weakness heading into this year - Duchene has finally learned how to use his teammates. After his run of 16 goals in 31 games to start the year, he started drawing more attention from the defense. In the past 23 games, he's excelled at finding the open man and creating scoring opportunities for those around him.
Of his 16 recent helpers, 11 have been primary. 60% of O'Reilly's goals from this stretch have come directly off Matt Duchene's stick, as have a third of McGinn's. Johnson and Barrie have also benefited from Duchene's new-found playmaking abilities.
His 31 total assists in 54 games have him on a 47 A pace, but if he keeps up his current rate, he could easily break 50. He'd be the first Avalanche player since Paul Stastny (59 A) in '09-'10 to hit that mark.
So, even though the goals aren't coming right now, Duchene is still finding his way onto the score sheet frequently. He's become a well-rounded center who makes his teammates better every time he's out on the ice.
Is it Enough?
As great as assists are, Duchene is a natural goal score. As such, he's been very visibly frustrated lately. Once defensemen began to adapt to his speed, he's not gotten the breakaways he had before. He also hasn't gotten many calls from the refs as blueliners hook and hold him in an attempt to slow him down. At times he's looked like Peter Forsberg out there, not because of goal scoring prowess, but by the sheer number of defenders hanging off his back or jetskiing out behind him.
Even when he does generate shots at net, they're either saved spectacularly or bounce off a post. As a result, during recent games, he's passed up on good opportunities by looking to dish instead of shoot. He can't buy a goal right now, and he knows it. It's become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The frustration is also starting to bleed into other parts of his game. His defense has really suffered lately. He and his line have been on the ice for every non-empty net goal on this road trip, including all 5 against New York. His decisions look more tentative, and while he's staking well, he's not been as much of a game-changer of late.
In hockey terms, he's gripping his stick too tightly. He knows the expectations the team, the fans, and most of all himself have for his game, and he knows he's not reaching them. He's getting chances, but this streak of rotten luck just won't seem to end.
Perhaps some of the problem is a mental block. The next goal he nets will be #100 in his career, a number that has been hanging over his head for the past 9 games now. It's a big milestone, so it's possible that a bit of this pressure combined with the goalless streak are only making matters worse for him.
Duchene has one game to go before heading off to Sochi to represent Canada. Hopefully he'll net a few easy goals against weaker international competition and use it as a springboard to bring back some confidence.
Once he returns, the Avs have 24 regular season games remaining. They'll need all hands on deck for their final playoff push, and having their leading scorer scoring would be a great help.
At some point, this run of horrible luck has to turn around. Duchene is simply too good of a player to be held goalless for very long, especially with the shear number of chances he's generating. There's always a chance that his luck will begin to reverse tomorrow against the Islanders, but if not, watch out for him in Sochi and beyond. I have a feeling there are a bunch of Matt Duchene goals coming in the not-too-distant future.